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Yonge/Eglinton condo not just another tower in the park

The rapidly intensifying neighbourhood around the intersection of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue isn't Toronto's coolest place to live, and it's not the toniest spot in town to put down roots. But for middle-earning people who value the convenience of modernist apartment living, and who don't want to be slaves to the car – it's on the Yonge subway line and the soon-to-be Eglinton light rapid transit route – this district definitely has its charms.

The prolific high-rise architect Peter Clewes believes that a new condominium tower he is designing for a site at 155 Redpath Avenue will fit right in.

"It's unabashedly modern, in the true sense and spirit of modern architecture since the 1930s," Mr. Clewes told me. "It's about as pragmatic and rigorous as you can get in residential architecture. It harkens back to fifties and sixties residential development in Toronto. You have great examples and horrible examples, but [Toronto's move to tall apartment buildings] started with a deep pragmatism about residential design."

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Of Yonge and Eglinton, he said: "This is an apartment neighbourhood … where Toronto was celebrating this notion of very urban apartment living after the Second World War." The architect went on to describe what he's doing in blunt words liable to strike terror into the hearts of anti-modernists everywhere: He called it "a tower in the park."

But turning from this scary talk to the renderings and plans of the structure Mr. Clewes is actually crafting for developer Peter Freed and CD Capital, I got something of a surprise.

The 36-storey building certainly doesn't appear to be just another great block of concrete and glass sprouting into the sky from a windswept, desolate lawn, which is the usual image conjured up by the phrase "tower in the park." Instead – if, indeed, renderings and plans can be believed – its massiveness will be textured and lightened, as the building gracefully rises to its full height from a nine-storey podium, by the tucking in and pushing out of balconies at various levels.

The tower's facades will be further brightened by multistorey, glassy cutaways that will lend drama to what could otherwise be (in a more ordinary building) an uninflected escarpment of balcony fronts.

If all works out according to plan, the up-tempo, fresh modernist styling of the structure's external wrapper will be effectively carried into its common areas by interior designer Johnson Chou and the landscape architects at NAK Design Group.

The spaces on the double-height ground floor and ninth-storey amenities level, Mr. Chou said, are to be "imbued with spa-like calm." Practically, this means planting tall, enclosing hedges around the perimeter of the tower, and laying out paved aprons and reflecting pools beyond the high, movable glass partitions that separate the lobby, library, yoga studio, exercise room and other areas from the external world.

The small park in which the tower stands, in other words, is to be not a blank lawn but a series of carefully framed, landscaped "vignettes" – Mr. Chou's word.

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There (at least during the precious months when the weather is good), residents may (as fancy strikes them) read, play, practise yoga, or watch the little waterfall or the fire-fountain installed in the ground-level pool. If homeowners want to enjoy their common space, but don't want to go outside, they can always relax and look out the glass walls of their building's first storey. A considerable amount of internal territory has been set aside for them to do so.

In fact, I don't recall ever seeing plans for a tall residential building in Toronto that featured a more generous spatial allotment at grade for the pleasure of residents and their guests.

In many condo towers these days, you're lucky to get a lobby that's a little more ample than a foyer for the elevators. Encircling the core of this new building there is (along with a foyer for the elevators) a spacious lobby where the concierge sits, and there are the other places I have mentioned.

This is in addition to the amenities floor, where one finds the swimming pool, hot tub and other indoor and outdoor facilities.

"The older I get," said Mr. Clewes (who is not old at all), "the simpler I want to become." His architectural scheme for 155 Redpath, and the designs of his colleagues on this project, are surely simple, spare, economical – but hardly simplistic. They are notably liberal, especially in a mid-priced offering like this one. If these interesting and attractive treatments are "as pragmatic and rigorous as you can get in residential architecture," then we can hope Mr. Clewes's unorthodox idea of "pragmatism" quickly goes viral among the other authors of Toronto's tall condominium buildings.

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John More

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