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123 & 131 Coxwell

We return from a rather-too-long hiatus to finish off the other two buildings at the strange coroner of Coxwell and Robbins just up from the police station, 123 Coxwell (a mock-Tudor confection, later turned flat blue) and 131 Coxwell (a lime-and-cream stucco slab). Let’s look at them both together:

T-intersection shows green-and-cream stucco building on near corner and blue-and-burgundy mock-Tudor building on far corner

As seen from across the street at Coxwell and Robbins

123 Coxwell

Where, exactly?
123 Coxwell just north of Dundas at Robbins
Who owns it?
AIS Inc., which is “a small nonprofit supportive-housing program serving persons who have experienced homelessness and mental illness” (Cf. the Dream Team)
How many units and residents?
13 units
Architectural and building history?
Two-storey tudor building

Rear three-quarter view

JOE: And here we are, nearly two months later. Let’s not do that again. You realize the next one is the one by the nuns?

IAN: Ooh, you got a comment, Joe. [Reads] Do you know this guy?

— Yes, I do. OK, so Tudor and stucco, together at last. What were these people thinking? Is there no planning at all at this goddamn intersection?

— Oh, you mean one of them is Tudor and the other is stucco. Because Tudor buildings usually have stucco on them.

— The other problem is that this is at the same corner as the clone of 970 Eastern.

— There was a picture that shows that, actually.

— Anyway, my general impression is that the Tudor building is quite dignified, if I can use that word.

— Well, it’s not undignified, that’s for sure.

— They’re really screwing up the entrance though, because they’re –

— I don’t even understand where it is.

— Yeah, what should be the front door is a too-small single door right on Coxwell that tells you to go to the side entrance.

— Says “123.”

— So that’s obviously not a “mistake.” They deliberately set out to not quite turn their backs on but turn away from Coxwell.

— Can you blame them?

— And they’re actually at an angle on the road there.

— Are they? On the sidestreet or on Coxwell? Well, both, I suppose. I’m trying to get a picture of where the.... OK, this appears to be the actual entrance. And it’s a good place to look, because it, you know, it points out some of the successes and failures of the building. Mostly successes. Awfully high-quality material and construction, especially compared to some of the other buildings. This is, at the bottom, not-inexpensive coloured rusticated cinder block. This actually looks like real timber; I don’t know if it is or not. The shingles are either actually cedar or a very expensive lookalike. The windows look to be a decent quality. The entrance is kind of –

— Anticlimactic.

— Yeah, but not a disaster. It’s very domestic, right? Although the fact that it’s a commercial-looking door kind of gives it away as a housing project. It’s about the only thing that does, though. Notice how well-vented the roof is, and lovely skylight –

— Actually, I did notice that the vents are uniformly spaced.

— Well, they have to be by code, but one of the units at least has a skylight, sot that’s quite something. At first glance, it seems like you wouldn’t want to live in the basement units, but then when you go around back, which is here, you can see that they appear to have a private walk-out with French doors. In fact, you know, the rear view of this building doesn’t suggest subsidized housing in any way.

— Except for the lack of parking. They have like two spaces. And that entrance at the far corner at the bottom is an automatic door.

— What I’m wondering is if the units go all the way through, or... because it’s a very long, narrow building. I just want to look at the front again. Hmm. Where is the front?

— “Front” is a difficult definition here.

— Where’s the Coxwell elevation? That’s it. No, no. That’s too narrow a building to have two units, and why would there be a centred window on the second and third storeys if it were two units? So the units go from front to back or side to side. I would hazard a guess that there are no windows on the south side, though, and here’s one reason is this parapet wall, which are often built in preparation for another building being built next to it. And it doesn’t appear to have any south setback, so you can’t have glazing that close to a property line. Doesn’t matter, though. There’s lots on the north side.

— There’s a tiny house right next to it.

— Which you can’t see.

— Which I cropped out. And is it just me or are those kind of dramatic colours that actually work?

— No, I mean, it’s certainly a matter of taste. I don’t find them offensive. The real problem that I can see is the corner bus shelter. What is going on? And this little fenced-in area behind it. You know, but can you blame that on the housing project or on the city?

— OK, I was saying it’s on an angle. Of course it technically isn’t, but that bus shelter gives it the impression of being on the angle of the shelter. It does not seem like a perpendicular building until you walk all the way to the back end of it.

— Well, that’s probably a function of the shape of the lot. My point is that the bus shelter appears to cut across the corner instead of facing either Coxwell or the sidestreet, and therefore it unnecessarily blocks the view of a not-unpleasant building.

— Well, thank you for dismissing that. I agree things would be different if you got rid of the bus shelter, which I’ve seen people use.

— Or move. Move the bus shelter. Now, we haven’t really talked about the fact that this is a mock-Tudor style, essentially 3½-storey multi-unit apartment building in the 21st century on Coxwell.

— Another architect’s dream project that he finally gets to dust off?

— No, it’s kind of an easy way out. It’s a familiar style. Reminds one of home.

— Home back in Deutschland.

— Or England or just about anywhere in England outside of the Mediterranean.

— Or Brazil.

— I said Europe.

— There’s a town in Brazil.

— The thing here is, he’s gonna do a Tudor building, or she. Is he gonna do it successfully? Or she? You know, on the initial decision of taking a possibly inappropriate and tired style and applying it to a street like Coxwell where I guess there really isn’t any overriding architectural context, you just gotta look at whether or not he does it well, and he does. Everything is nicely proportioned and considered and scaled and... clean. Look how clean it is. I mean, this picture really shows you what you’re dealing with, looking up the sidestreet and down Coxwell. You see the sort of ubiquitous housing stock next to the, sorry for the rhyme, ridiculous – what’s this one called?

— Well, it’s the one with the pastiche of styles that still ends up looking like a prison. It’s a strange corner to live at because they have these three buildings.

— Well, we haven’t talked about the third yet. Anyway, if there’s gonna be a precedent set, aside from the existing housing, which isn’t really appropriate for higher-density residential/subsidized housing, if there’s gonna be a precedent, I would rather it be a slightly tacky mock Tudor than the Alcatraz across the street.

— With its blazing white aluminum. Alumin-yum.

— Al-you-minium.

— So let’s look at the other one and get it over with.

Update: Tudor no more

In late 2006, the owners, Accommodation[,] Information & Support Inc., secured a permit, which they used for “[r]epair of the exterior walls.” (The contractor was Restorers Group, Richmond Hill, and the permit expired 2006.07.06. The permit was posted on the Coxwell door.) This apparently means “strip off and destroy everything that was lovely about the exterior.” They pulled down all the timbers and painted the whole thing a flat blue.

Blue building with latticework of scaffolding (including grey plastic tent covering an entire end)

We can’t believe it either.

131 Coxwell

Where, exactly?
131 Coxwell just north of Dundas at Robbins
Who owns it?
How many units and residents?
19 units (apparently 11 one-bedroom, 8 bachelor)
Architectural and building history?
A “transitional housing facility” opened in 2005; originally the home of the Cretans Association Toronto (i.e., association of people from Crete). Redesigned by Dino Dutra, Dutra Architect Inc.
Two-storey stucco building, green at front, tan at rear, with short wooden deck railings on roof

View of rear third

IAN: All right, so here we have the building directly across the street in a soft lime green and grey.

JOE: It’s actually cream. When you’re right there. Like Neapolitan ice cream. Strangely, the colours are not offensive in real life. They just aren’t.

— Even in winter?

— I’ve been there when it’s been cold but not snowy.

— Sometimes colours like this kind of green, any kind of citrus colour doesn’t work when there’s snow on the ground. And if this is beige, it’s not gonna work either. It’s gonna look filthy.

— It’s not beige. It’s cream.

— Cream. Same thing. All right, well, let’s start with the Coxwell entrance.

— He’s got a lot of things going on there, but what bugs me is the mystery entrance.

— This?

— Yes, that. The green part should be the door. But it isn’t.

— What’s that?

— I dunno.

— What do you mean? Of course the green part’s the door. This is all green.

— No, the recessed part, of course.

— It is the door.

— No. No, no, no.

— Are you talking entrance or door?

— Do we even have to split hairs? Look, you walk into this recess, right, or you see it from across the street, and there’s this large building-coloured rectangle with the house number on it. And that’s not the door! The door is next to it!

— Are you expecting the door to be here?

— Yes, I am.

— Why?

— For the reasons I just told you.

— No, no, no. It’s a little bit of play, a little bit of asymmetry. He’s doing this little bit of Modernist play, with the door shoved over to one side, and the number centred... I kind of like this. He’s brought the ceiling right above the height of the door, so it seems kind of intimate. Looks like he’s finished it with some kind of tile or whatever, though that doesn’t make it accessible. And I don’t have any idea what this thing on the left is. There’s subtle little play going on in this elevation. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. I think the division into three vertical planes works well. The lintels above all of the windows, including the basement ones, are a nice articulation. But these hovering slabs – are they actually multicoloured like that, or is that a—?

— I dunno.

— Is silly. Silliness. So. The first two vertical planes have no connection to the sky whatsoever. Just stops, pfft. Classic Modernism. The next one has this little hipped roof on it.

— That’s because it leads to a back rooftop terrace.

— OK, let’s have a look. It’s this little roof I’m talking about.

— I know, but maybe they have two. Well, there’s a terrace at the back.

— The hipped roof is a failure. He’s trying to articulate the corner. This actually looks like a building, you know, a ’50s office building or something with some kind of commercial use and handed over to the city and stuccoed in a couple of different colours. That’s what it says to me. [It was.] Especially on the sidestreet elevations, there’s nothing residential about it, nothing. And it fails in all the ways that the building right across the street succeeds. What is with this ridiculous lawn?

— The lawn is the same as the lawn across the street. They’re both useless. They’re both little setbacks for some reason.

— Yeah, well, look at how the bottom of this building meets that lawn.

— Jaggedly?

— Just, you know, sinks right into the ground. There’s no consideration for the basement windows.

— And why are the windows completely regular?

— You know, I really think it’s possible that it may have been another type of building at one time.

— These three buildings do not match.

— No.

— Is that possibly slightly better, though, because you’re on Coxwell, admittedly just down from the weird architect’s house on stilts, which is supposed to be value-adding, I guess, but you’re also 100 feet away from the cop shop. So if you had matching buildings, you’d be an official ghetto under the nose of the police. This way you can at least pretend that you are individuals in some way.

— Well, because of the scale of the buildings, you can’t really go wrong with differentiation. You don’t have a ghetto of towers here. Each building is on a street, a busy street; they’re different sizes. So I would say they don’t necessarily have to be radically different in style to be individual. You know, their location and their size and so on will make them individual enough. And the presence of the other housing stock in the neighbourhood will prevent it from being a subsidized-housing ghetto.

— And I think the Tudor one is a co-op. [No, it isn’t, actually.] Which is supposed to be the “respectable” kind of affordable housing. People compete to get into co-ops in New York, for example.

— Yeah, well. I just don’t think that Nº 131 is gonna hold up well to the weather or to time or.... If you look at the building in and of itself, it’s the most sort of ghettoizing building we’ve seen.

— No, that’s ridiculous. It doesn’t have an underground entrance. It doesn’t look Soviet.

[Points to side view] That doesn’t look Soviet? I’m talking about just the building.

— The word we like to use is “warehouse.”

— And this is it. Warehousing the poor.

— And they probably don’t have central air, because there’s a little air conditioner along the side there.

— 123 didn’t, either. There were little air conditioners poking out of the units.

— So you’re in a warehouse and you swelter.

— Facing south, no less. You know, just because it’s so simple, it’s ever so slightly more appealing than the Leslie and Eastern Ave. project. But only slightly.

— And it wouldn’t be saying much for me to be saying that isn’t saying much. In fact, I haven’t said much.

— It’s weird. It takes good pictures for some reason. Maybe you take good pictures.

— No, this took three trips. Three! Not doing that again.

— I think my point is that it looks better in photographs than it does in real life. I just imagine it as this place with long dark corridors and, you know, poky little apartments with paper-thin walls and nothing distinguishing one from the next. No way to get outside except the one door that you don’t like. Doesn’t interact with the street. It doesn’t look like a fun place to live.

POSTED: 2006.05.08

UPDATED: 2007.05.11

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