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Second try improves a Toronto high rise

Leaned on by city officials or citizens who want something different or pressured by developers responding to consumers, the architects of Toronto's tall residential buildings often modify their schemes between the moment when the proposal goes public and the later one when the product is actually launched into the marketplace. But few towers I've been watching recently have changed more dramatically during that interval than the deep-downtown project called Ten York, whose 694 suites went on sale this week.

You may recall the column I wrote about this development late last year. Build Toronto, the public agency charged with unloading municipal property, and real-estate behemoth Tridel had announced their joint investment in a 75-storey condominium tower in a very tight, harsh spot among the Gardiner Expressway ramps south of Union Station. I didn't (and don't) think much of our stone-broke city's climbing into bed with the highly speculative real-estate industry – but never mind: I'm writing about the architecture now.

The plan Tridel rolled out at the time would have seen a very tall, boxy condo stack rising in the dense forest of residential and commercial high-rises now taking shape in this hitherto desolate district. The tower, as architect Rudy Wallman imagined it then, would probably have been passable, though not particularly memorable. But the overhaul Mr. Wallman has performed on the design during the last year has resulted in something better, in a general sense, than what he initially had in mind. The building has been whittled down from 75 to 65 storeys, for one thing, and is better proportioned for that reason.

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Then there's the way space has been apportioned in the old and new layouts. In both the original scheme and the newer one, the residential floors have been boosted up above the level of the Gardiner's elevated traffic deck, which sweeps right alongside the structure. But the earlier plan, rather disagreeably, called for devoting the storeys between the ground and the suites to parking. Now, the lowest portion of the building is an urbane, glassy pavilion that contains the spacious, very high-ceilinged lobby, and the parking spaces have been put underground, where they belong.

Such changes in program are welcome – but it's the architect's intelligent response to the site that makes this building stand out from the herd. Instead of fighting the triangular form of the property, as he did by proposing a rectangular glass box in the earliest version of Ten York, Mr. Wallman has decided to move in line with the uncommon geometry of the place. The high pavilion at the base is itself shaped like a dieter's acutely cut slice of pie, its cantilevered point thrusting westward from York Street. The seventh floor of this podium is given over to a gym, theatre, party room, juice bar and other amenities for home owners, while its lid has an open-air swimming pool and a cluster of change rooms and sauna compartments.

There are a few suites on the eighth (pool) level, but the residential shaft of the building begins in earnest with the ninth floor. Like the podium, the footprint of the tower is triangular in plan. The areas of the most usual units (only a third of which have balconies) range from 600 square feet up to 1,600 square feet, though the most common format is a one-bedroom-plus-den arrangement that's between 600 and 675 square feet in size. Three penthouse suites, each coming in at around 3,800 square feet, are available. The basic asking price for an apartment at Ten York is about $700 per square foot.

The triangular form of the project's podium and shaft is unusual in Toronto, but the building type is hardly unknown. When I spoke with him last week, Mr. Wallman mentioned such venerable precedents as New York's famous Flatiron Building and Toronto's much smaller Gooderham Building, another dignified late Victorian "flatiron." The occasion for structures of this kind is bound to occur where two road systems – the massive concrete ribbon of the Gardiner and the regular grid of streets on the landfill south of Front Street, in the case of Ten York – intersect at sharp angles.

But if not exactly original, Mr. Wallman's solution to the problem of designing for a curious, crowded nook in the urban fabric is certainly interesting and imaginative. I look forward to seeing his tower go up and take its place as a new member of North America's exclusive "flatiron" club.

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John More

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