Owning the Podium

Much of Ottawa’s current discussion about high rises focusses on the podium, or base of the building. In theory, the wider larger base is all the pedestrian sees, and the thin elegant glass tower floats off into the sky after a generous set back.

Of course, this requires a fairly large lot or thin tower. What we increasingly see are small lot edifices, where either the tower is too fat for the base, or the podium effect is just sort of drawn onto the tower by a few horizontal bits of concrete trim. I stopped recently to look at the successfully done podium and tower condos at Richmond-Roosevelt, the western entrance to the Westboro commercial strip. For these buildings, the pedestrian view really is primarily of the podium. And the commercial spaces on the bottom floors really do enliven the streetscape. Podiums can work.

When the tower+podium design is not on a commercial mainstreet, it is common for neighbours and the city to demand that the podium consist of townhouse-type units. Supposedly these animate the street or courtyard level by the comings and goings of the residents and visitors. In fact, most times these apartments are also connected to the internal building corridors, and since the whole project is predicated on making corridors short with easy access to the garages and common facilities, these exterior doors become somewhat unused. Fake, in fact.

Unused ground level doors. When the internal corridor is more attractive to residents …

There is a major economic issue with these townhouse units. They are built out of concrete, just like the high rise above. This makes them very expensive per square foot, compared to freestanding townhouses. So the townhouse units on the Claridge podiums on LeBreton Flats got converted to one and two bedroom regular apartments.

Much was made of the Soho Champagne condo towers having a lively, townhouse base suitable and attractive for families. Alas that fantasy of little kids playing along the multi-user paths has also gone poof, as none of the townhouse units sold, and they have all been converted into one and two bedroom apartment condos, albeit with ground level “balconies” or patios. Now called “pathway suites” they are selling:

This set me to wondering if the condo developers really mind. Maybe they just want to sell the square feet of space. There is no point proposing a building that doesn’t get approved, nor of building a building if it doesn’t sell. So if the planners want them to put in townhouse units, draw them in. And keep in mind that they just may need to be changed to something else further down the line. And the neighbours who thought they won a big victory by insisting on townhouses, they may never notice.

Succumbing to cynicism, I expect condo promoters to market  their next project will have three bedroom family-sized apartments. This will mollify the NIMBYs somewhat. Get approval. Oops, they don’t sell. Reconfigure.

Somehow the planning promise of podiums is getting a bit nightmarish.


5 thoughts on “Owning the Podium

  1. Who is buying 650 sq ft places for 330k+parking+fees? The market for these boxes is ridiculous, I don’t get it.

    1. Well, somebody who wants a smallish place to live is buying it. Their other choice, to be in this neighborhood, is to buy a single home ($500,000+ to a million dollars, plus) or a row house in the $400,000+ range. The few rows available in mid-threes are definitely for those who like replacing knob and tube wiring and otherwise fixing up the property. But, if you are not inclined to be a fixer upper, new apts are the most –maybe the only — affordable option. And parking is optional — remember that when you buy a ground level house with a garage, you are paying at least 30,000 for that garage, plus $40 a month in additional property taxes, plus reroofing the garage periodically, etc. Someone I know in this neighborhood had to remove a garage and his insurance payout was over $50k.
      Go to Realtor.ca and call up the map for Dalhousie or Hintinburg or Westboro and start looking at the (asking) prices. You will find the odd cheapy, but otherwise be prepared for sticker shock.

  2. So I guess the rule for planning purposes is that if the townhouse has access to an internal corridor it isn’t really going to be a townhouse. So can they even make a floor level apartment that doesn’t have access to an internal corridor or is there a fire department regulation saying you must have two different exits at opposite ends of the apartment.

  3. My rule of thumb is, it is best to have only doors to the outside, no corridor. The CCOC apts down by the Y have ground floor units with no internal corridor, so people do actually come and go from the functioning front porch.

  4. I have heard that Canada Post requires that the mail boxes for street-level town homes are inside the building, I.e. no door-to-door or community boxes on the street. The residents then require a corridor access, of course.

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