This review took six weeks to put together. First we procrastinated and forgot about it. Then something came up every time I intended to sit at Ian’s and write the thing. Then Carl Strygg told me that the building that preceded 1070 Queen had a lovely Art Deco façade that Terry Hackett of ETC News would have a photo of. (I asked her. I asked her photographer when I bumped into him at the Maple Cottage open house. No dice. Whassamatter, Terry? Annoyed I got the domain
Leslieville.org and you didn’t? Like, what is the deal?) The city archives doesn’t have anything of such a recent vintage, either.
Then! Surprisingly! I got an E-mail from Kevin Speicher of Woodgreen offering a tour of the building. That took ten days to arrange, but we did indeed tour all the major parts of the complex on 2006.07.13. We didn’t visit every floor – in fact, the first thing I asked to visit was the roof terraces (plural) – but Kevin and housing worker Ulli took us through those terraces, a vacant bachelor apartment on the ground floor, and the common areas also on the ground floor. One expresses thanks to Kevin and Ulli, and issues a warning that we’re gonna want to tour the other buildings, too.
- Kevin told me that the previous building was the Dominion Envelope factory, which I shall be looking up.
- The building is expressly intended for seniors (age 59 and up) or adults with disabilities, with a concentration on people who are homeless or underhoused. They do their own intake, though you can also apply, no doubt fruitlessly, through the usual city waiting list.
- There’s only one commercial space at ground level – 1080 Queen, home to a pointless, ill-marked, underused federal employment office. This is something of a travesty, and it is the biggest sore spot in Carl’s complaints that the streetscape of Queen East has been destroyed by social housing. (That isn’t merely his opinion; it’s a fact. It’s also an advantage in some respects: As I keep telling people, Queen East will remain a mixed-use neighbourhood for the rest of our lives and cannot turn into Queen West.)
- He doesn’t know who the architect is, though I asked him to look it up. (Somebody’s gotta know.) “Too much Ayn Rand, not enough Jane Jacobs. By the time you’re done with them, you don’t want to deal with them anymore.”
- The common areas need a renovated kitchen. Their overly optimistic budget is $3,000 for a bigger electric stove, a dishwasher, and new countertops. Why isn’t Blaine Lastman – or, hell, Mel – stepping up to the plate here?
- Where, exactly?
- 1070–1090 Queen St. East at Brooklyn, just east of Pape
- Who owns it?
- How many units and residents?
- 179 and 212
- 16 bachelor units (semi-furnished); 123 one-bedroom; 27 one-bedroom wheelchair; 4 two-bedroom. 153 RGI units, 17 market rent (one-bedroom: $716). Three supportive-housing clusters of eight, eight, and seven units, one Chinese-speaking
- Priority housing for homeless, underhoused, and/or elderly people; average age 71
- Architectural and building history?
- Opened in 1993
IAN: Let’s begin.
JOE: This thing takes a minute and a half to walk past.
Corner view at Queen and Brooklyn
IAN: True. And, at first, it seems overwhelming from Queen St. And yes, they should have many more commercial outlets on the main floor, but it’s not the building’s fault; government offices take up most of it.
JOE: There’s only one government office. There aren’t government offices, and stop looking at me like that.
— Yes, there’s only one government office. That’s the problem. There aren’t even many of them. The architects could have tried a little bit harder to break things up. You can see they tried here with the bay, the strange bay window. The awnings help break it up, both vertically and horizontally. The little setback of the red brick at the top and around the sides. But basically your dead-on shots show it for what it is – it’s a huge, wide building.
— I could handle that if it weren’t that unremitting glossy buff brick. They found the glossy buff brick.
— Is it glossy?
— It has a kind of lacquered finish when you’re right up next to it.
— I think you might be right. They’re trying for details on the so-called pillars, but I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that we had a tour of the building, which for me changes absolutely everything.
— I still want to talk about the “massing.”
— Good word. Well, there kind of isn’t any. There is a surface treatment and that’s about it. The most that the secondary mass is defined by is maybe two feet, aside from that bay window. And they’re trying to do typical things with colour. It is, unfortunately, monolithic. I don’t even think you could get the whole building in your photo, right?
— No, it’s not wide-angle enough. Carl Strygg complains that this is the worst building for destroying Queen St., because it occupies so much space and displaces so much of what would be retail. He is, unfortunately, correct.
— He’s not correct. Half of the main floor, at least, could have been retail if the government of Canada or Ontario didn’t take it over.
— That’s not correct.
— OK, correct me.
— We’ve been in on the ground floor there. As you know, it’s community rooms, ground-floor suites, the Woodgreen office, and that much-too-large single “commercial” property, used by a tacky and underused employment office that I’ve seen someone going into or out of once.
— A government office, in other words. Look, if the employment office hadn’t taken up all of the storefronts, right? then we could have perhaps two bays per store, and you’d get this commercialization that Strygg wanted so much.
— I would be OK with the rest of the building, which is much too large and glassy and just too much goddamned yellow, if the streetscape had any life whatsoever, and it doesn’t.
— No, I don’t think it does, and it also has a really nasty hydro pole.
— I never noticed that. Another problem with the streetscape is the two entrances, which is a problem unto itself and shows that it’s, like, Woodgreen Prospekt it’s so Soviet. But there’s a guy who sits out there in his wheelchair year-round, and I almost but not quite dread having to walk by, because he is absolutely always there.
— Doesn’t have a front porch anymore, I guess. By the way, you seem to quite confused about where to enter. I had no problems. There were signs, etc.
— There were shitty signs.
— Well, of course, if you’re looking at them, they’re bound to be shitty. Anyway, it shouldn’t have been that easy, because there are no architectural clues about where the entrances are, or very few. And you have to know. So as bad as the signs are, the architecture is that bad. Nonetheless, I got in OK. I don’t know what they could do in terms of the streetscape. Is that a dead tree? Are these summer pictures?
— Taken in the dead of winter. One day was –17.
— Well, then, they’re perhaps not dead. They’re certainly adding to at least the starkness of the photographs. You know, perhaps the city of Toronto can do something fancy with their new street furniture. Please try to communicate my tone when I said that.
— Uh, does it have to be so yellow? They obviously had more than one colour of brick. The red-brick setback on the roof is all well and good, but you can’t see the roof unless you’re across the street.
— You can’t see the setback. No, you really can’t. This kind of – of all the things that you find bothersome, I can’t stand this crap. We used to call this “tigger,” “tiggering.” Where were we?
— OK. Tigger, as in Winnie the Pooh?
— Yes. Tiggering.
— Great word.
— Well, look. Look at the stripes running up the building. It’s rather silly and fun, but it bugs the hell out of me.
— Do you think that bay-window business is poorly shaped?
— Here’s the problem that I have. If it were made of some light steel structure, with more articulated window muntings and things like that, and somehow suspended, that’s one thing, but to make this giant tiggered projection seemingly held up by nothing, it’s disturbing. It’s brick! The proportions are all wrong, the language is all wrong. Although, you know, it’s probably a really nice feature inside.
— Shouldn’t we be looking at the extremely successful Woodgreen building at 43 Pape? Now, there they’re using the same two colours, essentially.
— It’s actually a paler brick.
— And of course the volumes have a different shape, and are way more pleasing, but it isn’t unremittingly yellow. Is the point.
— Well, first of all, they’re not volumes, they’re layers.
— And that’s kind of important, and that’s because it really isn’t reflective of the interior space. A difference of six inches to the layer of the brick is not going to make a difference to the floorplan, but it is going to make a fun, interesting, engaging element to the inside – for people who do that thing. We both really like this building. I’d love to get in it.
— And now we probably can!
— This is also Woodgreen. Really! So there are a couple of features of the building that need to be taken note of. The site was actually split in half longitudinally, so that the city owns the northern portion and Woodgreen owns the southern portion. So in fact they don’t own a block of land, they own a thin strip of land, and I think it’s part of the reason why the building looks so monolithic. Because they don’t have much choice because of the size and shape of the lot. The other thing is that the building’s treated very differently at the back and sides than it is at the front.
Back-corner view on Brooklyn
JOE: And the big one there is the fact that the tenants have to defend themselves against Louvain or somebody else peering in. And I really love the primary-coloured tarps. The blue especially.
IAN: OK, well, we’ve had questions about the tarping of balconies since we started this process, right? Just about all the buildings do this.
— That’s an exaggeration.
— No! I don’t think it’s privacy. They’ve got privacy. They’ve got blinds. I think they’re trying to make extra space. We know that there’s a large Chinese-Canadian, probably immigrant, population in this building, and it’s like temporary housing added onto what they’ve already got. Plus we also know that many of the clientele come from homelessness.
— Those bachelors re pretty small.
— Really? She told us what they were, and I don’t remember. I think five ? It’s sort of this ramshackle half homeless shelter/makeshift tent city. I don’t like it. It’s butt-ugly. But people also grow their veggies, and in some cases there’s plastic to protect them from the wind or something. So all the rear units have balconies and all the front units have what they call atriums. Euphemism for an extra room with a lot of windows. The rear we were fortunate enough to get a tour of. Ground floor has terraces. Good-sized ones, too. And basically you walk out onto the terrace and you’re looking at a completely verdant surroundings. So I actually liked the way they handled that. There was a winding path that went through. The terraces were private but not, you know, caged.
— I’ve lived in a lot of small places, including an actual renovated closet in Montreal. It was really the former utility closet. That bachelor apartment would be a cell without the terrace. There’s just no living space. You’d withdraw to your visible and prominent and irresistible bed all day.
— Larger than a hotel room. There is a minimum, eh? There’s a legal minimum. It’s like a large hotel room with a decent-sized kitchen and bathroom. I found it comfortable, but it was so sparsely furnished that, you know –
— I’m also reacting to the fact it was on ground floor.
— Yes. Maybe this is just me, but I’m really aware when I’m going across the same plane at ground level from common area, let’s call it, to inside to outside. It’s like I have a spatial sense of floor extending outward, and the walls kind of vanish and I don’t feel “housed” in quotation marks.
— Part of that, I think, is the lack of change of elevation of the terrace. It’s right at ground level. Houses’ are up at least a couple of steps, or down. But I quite liked it, of course. I just thought of plants and gardens and....
— It would be great for that, yeah.
— And I also thought it was protected by quite a nice fence and I could turn my back to the world if I wanted to and that would be fine.
— OK, what are you looking at here?
— I think we’ve pretty much covered the exterior.
— We did have a tour, however. First of note were the roof terraces.
IAN: Which just sounded like, even when we were there, this wonderful idea, one being for vegetables and the other being for flowers, and the tenants, most of whom were over 59, going up and getting pleasure out of that. I think it’s just awesome. But: It’s barely the size of a balcony. Maybe fit ten people on there. You certainly couldn’t have any events or anything like that. Just too small, both of them. But I think this gets to the crux of the issue for me, anyway.
JOE: Which is?
— When talking to the staff for long enough, the elevation of the building, aside from it being acceptably tidy, means nothing. There’s so much going on in that building. It’s very well used, and I don’t know if you noticed, but everybody said hello. Of all abilities and ages, and language barriers. I thought the place was very clean and quiet. I mean, they’ve got everything from the mentally ill to the physically disabled to the elderly, formerly homeless, large Chinese population. I just got the sense people really appreciated living there, and it looked like a nice place to live. Sort of blew some of my preconceptions out of the water.
— The hallways, with the shitty carpets and the wallpaper, made me think of the apartment buildings downtown back in the ’80s when they looked like they were straight from the ’60s.
— Yeah, and this was built ’92? And it was built for seniors, and it does have that feeling, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s not as though there are doilies pinned to the wall or something.
— But what I was going to say is that I’ve never been really sure what common hallways are supposed to be doing from a design point of view. The halls at Radio City are sort of charcoal black with metal type on the doors, which is really awful actually, but at least there is an attempt to design the hallway experience without doing an American-hotel business and using fake like Louis XV furniture and floral carpeting.
— Well, they weren’t doing that. Now, I don’t know if it was every floor, but certainly the top floor had windows in the hall. That’s unusual and very pleasant. Halls should be well-lit and navigable and close to stairways and elevators, first and foremost. And have a good sound. You don’t want an echo in the hallway.
— The elevators are at the extreme ends of the building.
— Yeah, I have a problem with that.
— And the problem with “well-lit” is people interpret that they way they interpret it at lousy retail stores – maximum possible light.
— Yeah. I meant properly lit. In fact, they had wall sconces and things like that. So it was properly lit. Someone that perhaps had some sight problems could still see. It was like a really nice community in there. People were great and everybody seemed to be, in terms of the support staff, working their butts off. And the tenants, when you saw them, seemed happy.
— And as we sit here writing this, or I write it and we speak it, I imagine that battleaxe who got up at the meeting and complained about not just the homeless but the hard-to-house homeless reading this and saying “I told you so. This is not the kind of people we want in the neighbourhood.”
— But there they are – behaving themselves. And all kinds of people, professional people, helping.
— And these aren’t even really the common perception of homeless. That’s some of the other buildings, like the worst ones, like 970 Eastern.
— What the tour made me realize was that a lot of the other buildings were just such complete and utter bullshit, you know? These architects playing pomo or –
— Tudor or Indian or whatever the hell they were doing, when that’s not what’s important. What’s important is to properly accommodate a pretty complex system and make it look respectable. So we’re just dealing with a slice of the whole thing when we talk about how this building looks on Queen St. – kind of pulling a Christopher Hume. What does the building mean to people? That is the most important question.