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Architecture Lisa Rochon chooses five buildings that give back to the city

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Monotonous and relentless, a vertical density of condominium towers is shooting up fast in Toronto. What could have been crafted with the sculptural daring of Sao Paulo or Chicago has become a skyline dominated by green-tinged glass architecture, without any of the subtlety or sparkle of Lake Ontario. Toronto has more than 180 towers currently under construction, more than any other city in North America. Which ones actually inspire? We wade through the sea of banality to fish out five stellar condominium developments, completed this year or approved to break ground. All five of these developments demonstrate a belief in the art of architecture and the critical need to give back to the city.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

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The L Tower. Architects: Studio Daniel Libeskind, Page & Steele/IBI Group. Developers: Cityzen Development Group, Fernbrook Homes, Castlepoint Realty. The brilliance of the 58-storey L Tower, built onto the back of the Sony Centre at Yonge and Front, comes down to a design gesture that’s as pure as it is simple: oppose the straight lines of the city’s downtown towers with a single, sublime curve. Delivering the power of that organic female shape required a complex glass facade and intricate sculpting of structural columns on the north side – an engineered solution by Jablonsky, Ast & Partners. In balcony-crazed Toronto, the developers have taken a risk by eliminating balconies on the curved north facade, and discreetly tucking them into the silver-blue facades on the visually magnetic tower. The building is set to be completed this fall.

Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail

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Alexandra Park, Phase One, Block 11. Teeple Architects; Tridel/Toronto Community Housing Corp. Towers with inexpensive glass window walls are not only ubiquitous, they’re unsustainable. To deliver higher insulation values and provide some sculptural rebranding for the city’s beleaguered Alexandra Park housing project, Stephen Teeple’s firm has designed a 10-storey condo as an irregular stack of blocks and protrusions. Silver-toned cuboid balconies, smoothly clad in aluminum, project out from the 14-storey building to heighten the architectural rhythm. Expected to start construction next year, Block 11 is planned to earn an impressive LEED Gold rating for its sustainability. Residents will be able to cycle directly inside the building, then park their bikes on a stackable storage system inside the front doors.

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Massey Tower. Hariri Pontarini Architects; MOD Developments. The Massey Tower near Queen and Yonge is one of the most elegant juxtapositions of contemporary lightness and heritage gravitas to be proposed for Toronto. Until Gary Switzer came along with his newly launched development company, nobody wanted to touch the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building (designed by Darling & Pearson in 1905), which has been abandoned since 1987 and considered one of the city’s most at-risk heritage buildings. The 60-storey clear glass tower with gently curved balconies is inserted behind the Beaux-Arts relic on a diminutive site. The bank itself will get a $2-million restoration that will transform its first three storeys, and the development will provide the land for an expansion of Massey Hall just behind it. The project is set to break ground this fall.

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ART Condos. Oleson Worland Architects & Hariri Pontarini Architects; Triangle West Developments. South of Queen Street West, at the foot of Dovercourt Road, it’s only right that you should unpack your expectations of the ordinary. Gary Silverberg, an artist who became the lead developer of ART, collaborated with architect David Oleson to deliver a midrise building that enlivens the ground plane rather than turn its back on the street. There are colourful tiles to add some textural pop to the building’s precast concrete facade, and live-work artists’ studios that look out onto the sidewalks through black aluminum-framed windows. Making room for art and music to flow onto the street comes in sharp contrast to the drycleaners and drug stores that typically sit at the base of Toronto's condo towers. Designed for the culturally savvy millennial generation, there’s a sound and light installation that transforms the building’s loading dock every day at dusk. Coming up: ART’s (expensive) expansion of the sidewalk on Sudbury Avenue, with custom-designed lounge furniture.

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River City. Saucier + Perrotte Architectes & ZAS Architects; Urban Capital, developers. Expressive architecture with volumes that fold and bend is a rarity in Toronto. Now the east side of downtown has scored a pure vision of liberated design at River City, a three-phase development produced for the West Don Lands by the Montreal art-architects Gilles Saucier and André Perrotte. The stunning complex at River and King Streets would not have been possible without the attention and indulgence of developer David Wex and strong support from Waterfront Toronto. Rising like monumental rocky outcrops next to the Don River – one black, one white – and butting up against an elevated Gardiner Expressway ramp, River City is a powerful north gateway to the Pan Am Athletes’ Village which is currently under construction. Two phases of River City are nearly completed, and the design of the third phase will be unveiled this summer.

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