Real entrances or planner’s fakes?

It is popular today that the base level of apartment buildings be visually separate from the tower above, through the use of a real three-dimensional podium, or too often in Ottawa: a drawn-on one.

A further refinement is to have separate uses for the ground floor. On traditional main streets, this is usually commercial storefronts. The original Centretown plan required these on side streets too, which gives the area on both sides of Elgin such a unique atmosphere, as there are little storefronts, often with marginal businesses that cannot afford the increasingly-franchise-cluttered main street rents.

Alas, what the Centretown plan cleverly called for, the City subsequently spent decades forbidding, as evident by the 70’s and 80’s apartment buildings also in the downtown but west of Kent, where ground floor commercial was forbidden. Sometimes ground floor apartments sit uncomfortably close to the sidewalk, other buildings just present blank facades or parking garages. Unfortunately, some councillors still think this way.

what to think of a planning model that puts ground floor parking as the highest and best use of downtown sidewalk frontage?

When LeBreton Flats was being planned, the NCC called for animated streets through active ground floors. Apartments were to have entrances onto the sidewalks and courtyards. Alas, in the first building, these were no more than grass-level balconies, accessed by patio doors without external keyholes, so they could not be used for real coming and going.

In the second phase, things got a bit better. Real doors, with locks and keyholes made them usable. Instead of arriving in the middle of the living room, they arrive in small entry lobbies with tile floors and closet.

But, Claridge still provided an internal corridor to service all the ground floor apartments. This is designed to be more convenient to access the parking garage. And with a hallway, Canada Post will service only the mailroom, not front-door mailboxes. There are no external house numbers. As shown in these pic, they are faux entrances only.

Oh, and yes, each of these pic is of a different home; but the only distinction is the angle of the BBQ and the alarm company sticker on the window:

unit number? doorbell? well-trod path? these doors are functional fakes...


another well-used door contributing to ground level livliness

and again…

are GIANT stainless-steel BBQ's the condo dweller's phallic symbol? Surely a snow shovel is a better shape to keep in shape...

So where has it been done right? Beaver Barracks, by CCOC (Barry Hobbin architect) put real ground floor units in, no internal corridor, residents have to use their front doors to come and go. Alas, I didn’t walk that far in the fading afternoon winter light to take a pic, so here is a summer one:

useable and well-used front doors on ground level units make streets lively and safe for everyone
note the front door number & welcome light, and elevation separation that gives privacy to the unit space

Will Claridge do better on his current phase of LeBreton (below) or on the 175 Richmond Road project? Real or fake doors, the choice is up to Mssrs Malhotra until the city requires real doors.

What especially puzzles me, though, is why the developer doesn’t realize that eliminating the corridor turns it into space he can sell for $500/sqft. Perhaps Neil Malhotra could tell us why? One other developer in town is now selling optional storage lockers for three grand, another tried selling off the roof as “private roofdeck patio” space. Surely its time to privatize the ground floor corridor by turning it into sellable square footage. Ironically, the market leader in putting the corridor space into living space is the non-profit CCOC. Hmm.

doors, please. Corridors, no thanks. Otherwise these might as well be in car-focused Kanata.

3 thoughts on “Real entrances or planner’s fakes?

  1. This is exactly what Ken Greenberg in “Walking Home” explains when trying to change Regent Park in Toronto. The ground floor of the condos was to be turned into town houses, but there were many obstacles such as indeed Canada Post refusing to recognise them as them as town houses to deliver door to door mail (which is probably a luxury that will eventually disappear anyway). Why is there so little imagination? Greenberg studied in the Netherlands in the 60’s and was already excited by the possibilities back then, he went to Scandinavia recently and is drooling over the sustainable cities. How come we end up with what we have? Lack of interest? Cheap resources? Quick buck? With the same money one can make something nice.

  2. If the residents use their cars for most of their necessary trips then an interior corridor to the garage is probably a selling point. If they are walking, biking or taking transit for most of their trips then a real external door with lock, doorbell, and a closet for coats and shoes is a useful feature.

    Its a bit of a chicken and egg thing I think, as it always is with walkable communities. Even if there are two proper doors, one to the hallway and one to the outside, inevitably one of them will be used the vast majority of the time because it will be where you normally leave your keys/boots/gloves/scarf/coat/etc. when you enter the house. So if your daily commute uses a car you’ll probably have all your stuff at the hallway door and nine times out of ten use it to enter the building even if you are walking for that particular trip. That’s how it works in the suburbs as well where many people who have a door into their garage will enter and exit their house through the garage even when walking.

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