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2006 02 13
Architectural Consumers
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By Amy Cross

Toronto’s housing buyers have become more sophisticated consumers. Instead of purchasing double garages with houses tacked on behind them, they’re mortgaging themselves for airspace in towers built by reputable architectural firms. Condo sales literature now gives architects star billing—complete with portraits--as if to say “you’re buying Capital A architecture”. The Condo’s design seems to be an important part of what they’re buying—equivalent to initials scattered on purse, that is a way of saying, “I have good taste, I am a sophisticated purchaser of shelter”. But I am starting to wonder if condo-dwellers really understand what they’ve bought.

I live in one of these buildings—a Concord Adex Tower designed by Architects Alliance. It’s detailed handsomely: the fixtures and fittings are clean and modern—down to the the Philippe Starck chairs by the pool. But at the main entrance to both towers, there are horrible pre-cast concrete benches in between the double sets of doors. The benches look as if they’re bought in bulk by municipal transport authorities—not typical fancy condo lobby fare. I always wondered how such an ugly thing could get there. Did the money run out? Was there a bench emergency, and the concrete thing was like a spare tire that was just being used until the REAL bench got fixed.

One night I was dining with some executives of the development company, and asked how the bench fit into the otherwise aesthetic plan of the place. They moaned and rolled their eyes and explained: as soon as the developers handed over the building to the condo corporation, the corporation put in the benches. Horrified by the aesthetic crime (at least a misdemeanor), the developer asked for the benches to be removed. No go. They offered to replace the benches by something that actually involved a furniture designer, but the resident-owners have refused to budge. The source of this obstinacy is hard to pinpoint (I’ve NEVER seen anyone sit or place parcels on the benches). What’s more, the hundreds of other people who were seduced by the well-designed sales centre and lobby renderings, are not fighting to have this blight removed at the ceremonial entrance to their homes. You’d think it would rankle them as it rankles me. But then, when you go into many of these apartments, you see floral wallpaper borders and pine country chairs. Recognizing this disconnect between what consumers buy and their own ability to decorate space, the Glas Tower started offering furnished flats, but it turns out most buyers want to put in their own things. Even if they are ugly.
[email this story] Posted by Amy Cross on 02/13 at 07:19 AM

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