Is it a Syn?

There was a controversy about 18 months ago in the Westboro area about a “perfectly fine house” to be torn down to build a new, larger one. The property owner got their permits, and the house was duly built.

Here’s a google street view of the old house, note the mature hedge along Spencer on the right, and the multiple evergreens:

And here is a pic of the new house, seen from the front. For a corner lot, they did not take any advantage of westerly views. Fenestration on the front façade is minimal:

and the view from the diagonal across the intersection (below). The second floor windows are obscured from the street by a frosted glass balcony railing:

A view of the house from the Spencer St side. This side of the house faces south. Note how many of the windows are tucked into a sort of courtyard balcony. I’ve seen this many times on narrow side yards, but this is a first for a wide open side yard:

The view of the back yard. Tiny windows will keep those rooms from being overly bright. The concrete driveway is huge, and there is a double garage to boot. There is also a roof deck with privacy walls to conceal the users, although I suspect the neighboring yards feel a bit looked-over. The rock garden with regularly spaced pyramids contrasts with the front (rock) garden with global shrubs. This garden really rocks:

The side yard and the front yard are landscaped with Syn grass, an artificial turf. Some think it is ecological as it is made from recycled materials and doesn’t need maintenance. But hey, the fun plastic play structure on the plastic grass keeps the kids clean. Natural materials include the cedar hedge, the generous rock mulches, and the uber-thick fence posts. The whole house is built of sturdy? bulky? fortressy? materials and the love of straight lines.

What at first glance was an infill with the typical modern exterior cladding is revealed, on further inspection, to be very different from neighboring infills and existing houses. There are fewer visible windows, a harder exterior, an alienation from the street and neighborhood. All around it houses are being renovated with bigger windows to bring in the light and views; this house looks very passive-defensive to me.

I wonder what their cottage looks like?


18 thoughts on “Is it a Syn?

  1. Ugh. The thought of some poor kid playing on ‘syn grass’ on a hunk of plastic, behind that big concrete parking pad just leaves me cold.

    Your use of the word alienation is bang-on…especially with regards to the back (east) half of the house.

  2. In the first picture it looks like there is a 2X6 sticking out the front of the house above the front door on the second floor. Is that purely decorative? Yuck.

    If this is supposed to be good modern design, they can keep it. I’d rather see an unkempt lawn, gravel driveway and a falling down garage than this sterile and cold house.

  3. I’ve spent many a day pondering this house and what the issues were. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I actually really like the side yard and the interest created by the recessed porch/balconies. But in terms of the front and rear yards, I think they could have done better to address the street and the context. The massing I’ve never had an issue with, it’s definitely not the “monster house” that it was portrayed as in the past. I’d love to go up on the roof deck and see what it’s like up there! Eric, it’d be great to see some investigations into what the views are like from all these new roof top decks of infills built lately.

  4. The back view looks more like a loading dock at a Loblaws than a house. Not to my taste at alle, and I think the lack of windows will age the house very quickly.

  5. We watched this house go up and be finished in creasing disgust, and you’ve identified all of the same points of contention so I won’t re-hash, all-told I think it shows contempt for neighbourhood!

  6. The guy spent the money and followed all the rules. It isn’t to my taste but I don’t want a bunch of busybodies telling me what to do with my property either.

  7. As Ken says, taste is individual. However, the nature of this blog invites commentary both positive and negative. Personally, I think this is not even remotely in keeping with the rest of the street. It looks like much of the urban infil going in downtown and is the flavour of the day. I don’t mind elements of it, I just think it belongs somewhere else. The rear though looks much like the corner block of a penetentiary and I almost expect to see a guard at the corner.

  8. Whoever designed this house loves modern urban Japanese architecture. I would LOVE to see the interior!

    I’m a fan….I think it beats the pants off of what it replaced. Although, I can’t say I’m impressed with the decision to tear down a house that seemed to be in good shape. There weren’t any other lots in the ‘hood they could have snapped up?

  9. Aesthetics aside (this new thing leaves me cold), I feel bad for the person in the house beside it (to the north, on Western Ave.) Because this new house stretches back so far, she lost much of the southern exposure in her backyard, so her perennial garden and the pleasure she got from it will now be lost.

    1. Perennials do just fine in my very shaded back yard.

      Try “will someone think about the children?!?!?”

      1. Some perennials like sun, others do all right in shade. I don’t know the details of this woman’s garden, but a sunny garden that suddenly becomes shady will not “just do fine.”

        And talking about flora does not preclude caring about fauna.

  10. It’s quite a handsome building, probably even more so with the blast shields lowered and the defense turrets deployed. On the landscaping side I don’t think it’s really quite barren or empty enough and the overuse of vegetation could be scaled back somewhat; barbed wire would be more thematically appropriate.

  11. I see lots of internal walls with long spans perfect for art rails and intersections great for display purposes.

    However, I’ve seen this concept executed in a more humane fashion in the Glebe and Westboro.

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