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The Globe and Mail

Honest Ed's: Developer Ian Gillespie frames a plan for an iconic Toronto site

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Developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank Properties, left, and Danish architect Bjarke Ingels look over a model of the 52-storey Vancouver House condominium project in Vancouver. 'I see the work that my peers do, and they are not thinking about it in this context at all. It’s the difference between manufacturing – the Henry Ford method of specialization – and going to an artisan’s shop and saying we want you to produce the whole thing, soup to nuts, to see it all together.'

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

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‘Even in its preliminary stage, with nothing more than models, renderings and the developer’s hopes to go on, we can glimpse in the process of making Vancouver House certain signs that bode well for the Honest Ed’s site,’ says John Bentley Mays. ‘For one thing, Mr. Gillespie’s hiring of Ingels, who now has offices in Copenhagen and New York, shows a welcome willingness and ability to attract a young, inventive, internationally acclaimed architect to work in Canada. This infusion of fresh, avant-garde talent from abroad will be good for the country’s architectural culture, especially if it wakes up developers to the skill of home-grown designers, some of whom are able to create intelligent, beautiful buildings with no less flair than Mr. Ingels can muster.’

Rafal GerszaK

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Opened in 1948 by Ed Mirvish, Honest Eds occupies a site that has been sold and will be redeveloped by Vancouver’s Westbank Projects Corp. For now, we wait for word from Westbank about the “total work of art” the company intends to bring to Toronto. But it won’t be long before Hogtown finds out what we stand to gain from the lessons about urbanism and architectural design that Ian Gillespie is learning in Vancouver.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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Vancouver House, by Bjarke Ingels for Ian Gillespie's Westbank Properties. ‘Vancouver House,’ says Mr. Mays, ‘will embody a lively, imaginative response to conditions on the ground that many an architect would find impossibly restrictive. The site is small and irregularly shaped, and sliced up by the ramps and deck of an elevated highway. Instead of raising his residential tower from a monolithic podium (which would be made impossible by the dice up of the site by highway lanes), Mr. Ingels splits the base into several triangular commercial buildings and a rental apartment block. These are then dropped into the sharp angles formed by the traffic decks, generating a dense, usable architectural fabric in a place that would otherwise be a wasteland.’

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Mr. Ingels has dealt with the tight, difficult location by starting his tower at grade with a small triangular footprint, then drawing it upward and expanding the floorplate until it becomes, at the top, a rectangular volume larger than its base.

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This smooth, deft vertical stretching of the tower’s structure is theatrical and visually arresting. But it is also an entirely practical solution (made doable by advanced imaging and building technologies) to the problem, hardly confined to Vancouver, of building out a city’s complicated nooks, of which the Toronto site of Honest Ed’s is one.

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