City awards prize, whilst frowning on the design

The above house near the Parkdale market got an award of merit for urban design in the City’s recent competition. Frankly, I was surprised, and bit annoyed too.

The upper deck, which doesn’t relate to the street so much as soar above it, does have a neat angled sun roof. The exterior materials are well handled, and the design is  neat. But only neat in an architectural way. I don’t think it is good urban design.

First, the entire front yard of these two houses is gravel. Is it really a xeriscape garden? Fess up, it’s two car parking spaces taking up 100% of the frontage. Front yard parking is justifiably frowned upon by the City and its residents for a variety of reasons: it looks bad. It cheapens the look of a street. It removes useful on-street public parking in favour of private parking. It eliminates green space. Can this front yard ever support a tree? Cars have to cross the sidewalk, which has become just a lengthy dip for the w-i-d-e driveway. And those sono-tubed columns of concrete below the steel posts grate on my eyes.

It is, however, convenient for the householder; and increases the selling price of the house.

The City’s prize went to a pair of semi-detached infill houses. Rather than side by side, as tradition has wont, this house follows the new trend of putting one house forward on the lot, and the other behind it, facing the yard. Provided the back unit has a front door facing the street, presto, it’s a side-by-side. Many times this works out really well.

I took these pic on a weekday. All the City’s pic for the awards ceremony also showed the houses this way. Car-free. Nary a shot with two cars parked there. I suspect that this house, or any similar, would look rather different with a bright yellow Hummer and a gray Astrovan twinset.

The City just went through a lengthy public consultation and drafted new infill rules. These are chock full of measures designed to discourage or ban the front-of-house-disguised-as-a-garage look. And its full of measures to keep front yards green.  Reducing front yard parking for new infills was a key factor in the process. And to encourage living space at street level rather than one floor up. And yet … this whole house front at the sidewalk level, or the pedestrian view from the sidewalk on either side of the street, is of an open carport, or a side-wall-free garage.

I realize the new rules are yet to come into effect. And this house was legit when built. And no doubt there were compromises to get it built at all.

Am I the only person who thinks it a tad … odd … for the City to grant an award of urban merit to an infill that runs contrary to the spirit of their contemporary thinking?

And no, it is not a cantilevered house. It’s a carport. And it is not urban-friendly enough for a prize. We can and must do better.

12 thoughts on “City awards prize, whilst frowning on the design

  1. I agree it runs counter to their thinking to award it a prize. However, in the home’s defence, on street parking is really not an option here. Grant Street is very narrow with parking only on the south side and not much of it at that. Unless you were to make the few parking spots available to resident parking only than parking off the street is the only option. Having said that, I hate this kind of thing. Front yard parking with no yard. We have a multi-unit on my street with 6 apartments and they paved the whole front yard to provide parking for 4 or 5 cars. They even have painted lines!! Terrible. Of course, when the winter comes they put all that snow on the street and remove 2 parking spots with the snowbanks they create.

  2. I agree. If that’s a single residence, one spot seems plenty. Also, is the sidewalk sloped for the entire width of their property? How did they swing that one?

  3. Great observations. thx for flagging the obvious incongruency. The Google view image really says it all: this house absolutely towers – dominates – its surroundings. Plus the carport thingy makes it look like a construction site. A photo of the house with the surroundings cropped out sets it up for an architectural award. But urban design is about context and space, and so the uncropped photo lays bear the true reality: this house is a blight, not an award-winner.

    1. Is there something inherently wrong with T&D (towering and domination)?

      I don’t much care for this house either, and an entire block of this (or even two side-by-side) would be pretty ugly, but as a one-off, meh – there’s bigger stuff to knot my panties over.

  4. Something I got from the oral version, but which was skimmed over in the written version, is about your “cantilevered” reference. I believe you said that you spoke to a City planner who said that this didn’t count as a front-yard garage because the awning was “cantilevered”?

  5. Note1: this is two residences, with 2 large parking spaces.
    Note2; the City favoured pic without cars; google got 2 small cars … but small cars aren’t guaranteed. What happens when people with SUV or minivans move in? I think the private vehicle parking will dominate the building, which reduces its eleigibility to be meritorious urban design.

  6. Note3: I tried to get specific info from city planners as to whether this consitituted a garage or not. Because if it isn’t, then we might see a lot more of these non-garages since the city is cracking down on front of house garages and this design might appeal to builders and car owners. I never got a direct enough answer to say whether this is a garage, a carport, or as it was described to me by a planner “a cantilever”. To be polite, it was evasive. Is it permitted under the new rules? Dunno. Is it permitted on this house, on a wider lot, or a narrower lot (since rules vary)? Dunno.

  7. When I was a kid in the Glebe in the 70s all my Italian neighbours made lots of money every summer turning their large front and back yards into parking lots for the Ex. They always made enough money to re sod the small parts of their yards that were not paved.
    At some point the Glebe WASPS got a little nimby-ish on the ugly lawns turned parking lots, so the city passed some bylaw that prevented this type of action. I wonder if this law is still on the books, and if it could work in cases like this…

  8. Yes, that certainly ruins the neighbourhood. Think of the poor folks living across the street.

    Oh. Wait a minute. It’s an ugly office bulding across the street that’s even taller than this nice-looking bit of infill construction. That now has two households in the space previously occupied by one.

    So, infill and intensification, both within current zoning. Aren’t those things we’re supposed to be working towards?

    1. Agreed. I’m no fan of the parking in front and think that the city needs to actively promote much more creative solutions, but the amount of grousing in our city about houses towering over others that are in fact only three storeys tall is discouraging.

  9. I can hardly believe that this won an award. There is something very unsettling about the proportions of this design, especially in the neighbourhood in which it is situated. And the prominence given to parking spaces is (to my eyes) hideous.

Comments are closed.