How to bring a ‘big, honking building that nobody liked’ back to life

The jury is still out on whether the low-slung “new town” of Don Mills – as envisioned by a young Macklin Hancock in 1952 – can support multiple high-rise towers at its centre, but there can be no denying that the modernist enclave is changing, as original residents move into retirement homes or with family.

What’s undeniable, however, is that as original housing stock changes hands and young professionals hand over close to a million dollars for detached fixer-uppers, the area will become a mono-culture unless there are alternatives.

So, there is at least some need for entry-level condominium units that allow twenty- and thirtysomethings to buy into the neighbourhood for between $300,000 and $500,000. And, with the mid-century force strong with these ones, the conversion of the Thomas P. Kalman-designed office tower at 75 The Donway W. (designed 1969, built 1970) to a loft-style residential building should have been a no-brainer.

But there was some debate, says architect Ralph Giannone, 51, co-principal of Giannone Petricone Associates, the firm in charge of the conversion for Fram Building Group and Cadillac Fairview. Early on, while working on The Shops at Don Mills, he says: “There were discussions: ‘Do we keep the building, do we not keep the building and [if we do keep it], what do we do with it?’”

Bringing it back to life as an A-list office building was cost-prohibitive, he says, because of failing windows, a crumbling parking garage, a dirty exterior and small, dingy interior spaces. In fact, the building was so tired that about half of it had been vacant in its final years. It was a “big, honking building that nobody liked,” Mr. Giannone says laughing. “The neighbourhood didn’t like it, Cadillac [Fairview didn’t like it], and there was a feeling that this building definitely was a bit of a Debbie Downer.”

Yes, with dark windows, bland cream-coloured spandrel panels and a chocolate-brown mechanical penthouse shouting only “75” at passersby from 15 storeys up, it was indeed a downer. But it was also a solid, concrete-framed, highly adaptable piece of late-international style modernism that had become a familiar Don Mills landmark.

In addition, the second half of Giannone Petricone Associates, Pina Petricone (Mr. Giannone’s wife), had edited a book celebrating concrete architecture, past and present, Concrete Ideas: Material to Shape a City (Thames and Hudson, 2012), so 75 The Donway was “something she’d be incredibly proud to keep, sustainability-wise,” says Mr. Giannone, “but it comes at a cost of a careful manipulation of the building.”

Careful is a good descriptor. For instance, it was discovered that the pebble-clad precast panels – which cover the entire building – are stacked on top of one other, rather than hung, as they climb each structural column, and that every other one is cosmetic (i.e. it doesn’t cover a column). So, the plan to remove some of the cosmetic pieces at ground level to create large, glazed openings was just not possible, as this would have caused the rest to come crashing down. While Mr. Giannone admits that he and employee Chris Vriend looked at recladding options, eventually they decided, “you can’t fight the [visual] order, it’s pretty strong.”

Yes, with dark windows, bland cream-coloured spandrel panels and a chocolate-brown mechanical penthouse shouting only “75” at passersby from 15 storeys up, it was indeed a downer. But it was also a solid, concrete-framed, highly adaptable piece of late-international style modernism that had become a familiar Don Mills landmark.

In addition, the second half of Giannone Petricone Associates, Pina Petricone (Mr. Giannone’s wife), had edited a book celebrating concrete architecture, past and present, Concrete Ideas: Material to Shape a City (Thames and Hudson, 2012), so 75 The Donway was “something she’d be incredibly proud to keep, sustainability-wise,” says Mr. Giannone, “but it comes at a cost of a careful manipulation of the building.”

Careful is a good descriptor. For instance, it was discovered that the pebble-clad precast panels – which cover the entire building – are stacked on top of one other, rather than hung, as they climb each structural column, and that every other one is cosmetic (i.e. it doesn’t cover a column). So, the plan to remove some of the cosmetic pieces at ground level to create large, glazed openings was just not possible, as this would have caused the rest to come crashing down. While Mr. Giannone admits that he and employee Chris Vriend looked at recladding options, eventually they decided, “you can’t fight the [visual] order, it’s pretty strong.”

 

From-http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/real-estate/how-to-bring-a-big-honking-building-that-nobody-liked-back-to-life/article22944948/

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