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A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto
By Ben Kaplan, National Post
Unexplored crevices and odd points of view burst from the pages of A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto, a collection so inspired it surprised the series’ creators in Montreal.
“They were shocked, like, ‘God, Toronto looks really good,’ ” says Margaret “Maggie” Goodfellow, 32, a project manager on the city’s waterfront, who wrote the book with Phil Goodfellow, her 32-year-old architect husband. “I don’t think Torontonians even know the extent of all the stuff going on here — let alone our editors in Montreal.”
Leading a tour of the city’s nooks and crannies, the Goodfellows stop frequently to ooh and aah at the unusual design quirks that juxtapose new and old. On Philosopher’s Walk, a stretch of parkland between Harbord and Bloor, there’s an angle where the ROM’s crystals appear to sprout from Trinity College’s ancient stone walls.
“The thrill is discovering the spaces in between places — the side entrances and views from the back — which are almost as nice as the buildings,” says Phil, a Montreal boy who met Maggie when she was at Carleton University in Ottawa and he was studying architecture at the University of Toronto. “We want readers to rediscover their neighbourhoods and be amazed at what they see.”
The book, pocket-sized and jammed with photographs, was a three-year labour of love, and it features buildings and parks from Etobicoke to Scarborough, the waterfront to the 401. Attention is paid to the usual suspects, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum receive full pages, but equally enticing are little known areas like the Schulich School of Business at York University and the laneway homes on Croft Street in Little Italy.
“The fun part in making this was getting to be a tourist in our own home,” Maggie says. “There’s little like the thrill of falling in love with a place you’ve never been.”
After appreciative inspections of the rear of the Gardiner Museum and the foyer of the Canadian headquarters of McKinsey & Company, an office building between Queen’s Park and St. Thomas Street, we venture inside the Royal Conservatory of Music.
“On a quiet afternoon, you can hear the musicians rehearse,” Phil says as we pass through the restored McMaster Hall and head toward the upstairs lobby of the Koerner Concert Hall, which Maggie says houses the city’s best bar.
“By exploring all the different angles of Toronto, it can give you a real different perspective, an appreciation, for where we live,” she says, looking southward from the building’s second floor patio, taking in the city’s skyline jutting over the recent foliage of the trees.
The Goodfellows describe contemporary architecture as anything built over the past two decades and say the recession of the early ’90s helped lead to the design renaissance of today. A wave of new projects erected at the start of the aughts — the OCAD building, the District lofts, Yonge-Dundas Square — helped pave the way for the Spadina WaveDeck, Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport and the Toronto Botanical Gardens.
“When people began to experience architecture, they didn’t want to live in mediocrity anymore,” says Maggie, who cites the “Bilbao effect” (Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum revitalized the city of Bilbao, Spain) with showing the world that a great building can generate not just tourism dollars but also civic pride.
“Toronto built itself out of the recession to become just as strong as New York,” Phil explains. “Our passageways offer one of a kind cracks in the urban world.”
Touring the city with the Goodfellows seems almost an impossible mission, seeing as both husband and wife are due back at the office after taking an extended lunch. Nevertheless, what was supposed to be 10 minutes at the Royal Conservatory turns into a two-hour tour — the music hall’s refurbished, finally completed auditorium provided the image for the book’s cover, so their enthusiasm is entirely justified — and afterwards, we spend another hour checking out the secret promenades north of Bloor Street and the Village of Yorkville Park.
“You’d think you were on a speed date discovering these little gems, but then you realize it’s more like a long kiss,” says Maggie, climbing the stone ridge on Cumberland Street, looking down at the shoppers on Bellair.
“You can get some action on your speed date if you just step out from your usual path,” Phil responds.
Loaded with factoids and maps, interviews with architects such as Bruce Kuwabara and big wigs such as William Thorsell, A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto reads like a walking tour narrated by a giddy, knowledgeable friend. For tourists, it’s a warm introduction to the city; for Torontonians, it’s a new way of looking at home.
“The book was created to get people out and exploring,” Maggie says. “We want to show Torontonians what’s sometimes not normally seen.”
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“Our baby loves your house”
Tony Wong – Toronto Star
When Amanda Cohen and Noah Segal received multiple offers on their semi-detached downtown Toronto home Sunday, one stood out. Along with a written bid, the potential buyers included a video presentation with a unique message.
“They showed their baby ‘signing’ the offer and told us how much they loved our place,” says Cohen. “I thought it was brilliant. We were really moved.”
Chocolates. Maple Leafs tickets. Handwritten notes and personalized videos. Bidding wars for Toronto real estate are once again percolating, with desperate buyers trying to make an impression however they can. The phenomenon, say Toronto real estate insiders, speaks volumes about the city’s housing market.
“People are now making audition tapes begging you to let them buy your house, and by the way, they’d also like to give you more money than you asked for. How outrageous is that?” says Bernard Lang, a Toronto investor in rental properties.
Low interest rates have pushed home sales up 34% from the same time last year. A drought of listings – down 42% – has resulted in multiple offers, with choice properties going for tens of thousands over asking.
That has potential purchasers going to extremes to get attention. Vendors, meanwhile, have the power to decide who gets to move into the neighbourhood. “We were hoping that if it came down to a close bid, it would put us over the top,” says Danielle, who made the video with her husband, Roy.
In the video, the couple tell Cohen and Segal that they “really love the home” and would take good care of it. They then hold up their 10-month-old baby and pretend to sign an offer. The bid was unsuccessful, but memorable. “It blew me away,” Cohen says.
Danielle and Roy have been looking for a year and knew they had to try to make their offer stand out. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the other 500 young couples with kids wanting the same house,” says Danielle.
The concept of putting a face to a bid isn’t so crazy, says professor Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.
“This is the classic strategy in all selling. Try to develop an emotional connection with the person you’re pitching to. It allows for space in the negotiation, so it becomes something more than price.”
Toronto real estate agents surveyed by the Star say the practice has become more common, driven by the lack of inventory on the market. “We just thought it would be fun and cute to do,” says Corey Brozovsky, the agent who shot the video on his BlackBerry. “The buyers can speak much more eloquently than I can on why they deserve the home.”
The big question when making a personal pitch, says Middleton, is: “How much value does this emotional connection have? Is it enough to move the vendor?”
It made a difference when Tracey and Steve Finch sold their Davisville Village home in the spring of 2006. The house received multiple offers and the couple picked a bid that was lower than the top price.
“Their personal stories helped us make a decision,” says Tracey Finch, who now lives in Boston. “We thought a family would go well on our street because all our children were born there and we had such great experiences and neighbours.”
The Finches had lived on their quiet North Toronto cul-de-sac for 10 years. They purchased their house for $265,000 and were selling it for more than $600,000.
“It really was a fantastic neighbourhood. People would be on their porches, the kids would be out playing …”
So when a single person submitted the highest bid, the Finches decided instead to go with a young couple recently arrived from Ireland with children. The difference in price wasn’t huge, “a few thousand,” says Finch.
“Frankly, we just felt guilty that we were getting more money than we expected for the home. I think it must be awful to be in the buyer’s position, where you’re constantly competing with other people.”
As for Cohen’s property, the video by Danielle and Roy was a nice touch but their bid was just too low.
“If they were equal or even a few thousand dollars off, it likely would have made the difference,” says Cohen. “We still feel guilty we didn’t pick the cute baby.”
There is some hope on the horizon for harried Toronto buyers. Analysts expect more listings next year, which should take some steam out of bidding wars. But in the current market, the connection that vendors have with their neighbourhoods – and with potential buyers – can be key.
Danielle says she won’t hesitate to make a video the next time her family bids for a home. But she is protective of their star. “It depends if the baby is up to it,” she says.
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