Meet Jeanne Gang
Toronto is becoming a city of condos. There are more cranes dotting the city’s skyline than in any other city in North America. At the same time, a recent census report shows that high rise apartments now represent nearly 47% of the housing stock, with low rise buildings accounting for another 16%.
As GTA builders continue to add new projects to the mix, innovation is at an all-time high, and we’re beginning see some of the world’s most acclaimed architects making their mark on the condo scene. While Frank Gehry (Forma) is a household name, Bjarke Ingles (King Toronto) or Norman Foster (The One) may be less familiar.
Among Toronto’s new band of international starchitects is Jeanne Gang, founder of the Chicago-based Studio Gang. Famed for unique and compelling work like the Aqua Tower, Solar Carve, and Mira and Arbor, her newest creation, One Delisle, is easily one of the most anticipated tall buildings to ever hit the 416.
Ms. Gang was in town for a recent ground-breaking, and we caught up with her to talk about her approach to architecture, the importance of connecting to the community and, of course, One Delisle.
Harvey Kalles: Can a new building stand alone, or should it conform to the existing space?
Jeanne Gang: I think it has to work with what’s already there. Start with what’s there, start with the city, with the people, how do they behave? With One Delisle, one of the things we did was set the building back and make a wider sidewalk. Something as simple as that…yes, it’s taking off some of the land that you can build on, but it’s giving it back to the public space and realizing that there are more and more people here. We need more public realm, and more generosity with the streetscape.
HK: How do you balance the client needs with those of the public?
JG: I feel lucky that I’m working with developers that have the city first in mind. Yes, they want it to be taller because that gives more return on the land, but the discussions about public realm are always first and foremost. But cities are different…in Amsterdam there’s a very strong urban design group that wants to meet with you and have discussions about the history of city. Other cities, like Chicago, there are no rules at all. In Toronto, we had some nice conversations with the city about the form of the building. We originally wanted to make it round all the way down because that will give the least shadow, but the city really wanted to see it being more coming to the urban form. So, we made this transition between square footprint to circular, and it’s pretty interesting.
HK: How do you approach reuse?
JG: I’m not into tabula rasa at all. Start with what’s there…that’s like our motto…what’s worth building upon and continuing and extrapolating from? With the Arbor in San Jose, we looked at existing buildings around the site…can we use these, can we reinvent them? This is research I’ve been doing at Harvard with my students on Brutalist era buildings that people love to hate, except for architects…we love them. They’re just so unique, so let’s hold on and celebrate it. They are socially progressive, they’re formally progressive, but they also have problems…they’re not energy efficient. So, I like to invent a story when you approach reuse. We started calling it The Life of Pi because it looks like a Pi symbol, and we tried to make the pi symbol more relevant in this next iteration. I think it’s a worthwhile endeavour.
HK: You’ve expressed concern about the impact tall buildings have on birds.
JG: In one of my first projects, I looked at how to reduce bird strikes on building glass, and it’s become an issue that I’ve been drilling down into it. Toronto and Chicago are on waterways and are really susceptible to bird strikes during migration. As architects, we need to work with clients and cities to address this thing that’s problematic for the ecosystem. It’s about reducing reflectivity, or below 50 feet – where the trees are and where you get a lot of strikes – using fritted glass and railings that are not just made of glass.
HK: What unique features stood out to you about the site at One Delisle?
JG: It was the presence of older buildings and the one facade that we really wanted to keep in the project and relate to. There was the aspect of it being a very connected intersection with transportation, so that we could bring more density. We also looked at the ravine landscape, as an inspiration, and explored that. It’s a good site and a very good candidate for a tall building.
HK: How did you decide on the shape?
JG: We were working on the project in Hamburg, and Hamburg has a climate that’s beautiful when it’s beautiful, and cold when it’s cold, not unlike here. And they have these beach chairs that you can modify to protect from the wind. That was kind of the inspiration…could we make a building that can protect from winds but also but also create different types of balconies and outdoor spaces. I think it’s a good model to try to do even more of…how can you modify your buildings for climate and comfort on the outside? There’s a lot of buildings that have balconies, but we were thinking about sightlines, seeing your neighbours, and modifying the climate so it’s comfortable. For the benefit of the people living there, how could they enjoy outside for longer period of time over the seasons.
HK: What inclusions are you bringing to One Delisle that we haven’t seen previously in a Toronto building?
JG: We’re bringing balconies, differences between units, different orientations, a building that has animation to it when you look at it from afar. And, how it touches the ground. It’s bringing this public space, the new park, and human scale to the streetscape. These things have maybe happened before, but this really brings them all together into one project, that’s more than just the building…it’s about how it knits into the city.
For more information on One Desisle, contact one of Toronto’s best real estate agents at Harvey Kalles Real Estate.
For more information on Jeanne Gang, visit studiogang.com