Soho Italia: please sir, can I have some more?

500 preston 2013 rendering


Very much as expected, Starwood-Mastercraft is back asking for more Soho Italia. More height. More commercial/office space.

Starwood made a smart move when it bought the Sidney-Preston site a few years back. It was the only site zoned for a high rise. They adroitly parleyed that approved thin concept tower to a much fatter, much taller condo. But they haven’t marketed the Soho yet, probably because it would be too hard to market three towers in close proximity (they have twin towers on Champagne/Hickory, just two short blocks away).

Then they found themselves left on the second shelf as Claridge got higher zoning on a lot closer to Carling; Richcraft is coming in with two (or more) very tall towers on the Dow Motors site; CIBC is looking forward to growing their drive-thru bank into a tower someday; Arnon has a site at Norfolk that gets a tall tower in the Dark plan, to say nothing of all the tall towers on the west side of the OTrain track.

While I certainly expected Starwood to apply for more height (they got about 30 now, Claridge has about 45, and the Richcraft site is supposed to have the highest height) it may not be a smooth approval.

While they are just a tiny bit north of Claridge, they are also just two narrow lots short of being on Adeline, which has been rezoned for “only” 18 floors in the Dark plan. They run the risk, if they apply for rezoning, that some community association might make a pitch for a much lower height to bring the building into conformity with the Dark plan.

More likely, there’ll be some opposition on more subtle professional planners’ criteria.

First strike, the very tall towers on Carling are on a wide, six-lane street, which then has kilometres of open space south of that. So there is lots of room to see the towers, for them to “breathe”. And there is a view worth having.

The Soho Italia is on Preston, a two-lane street. And there are other towers planned for nearby. Very nearby. The urban context is thus very different, more crowded, jammed-in even. This lack of space around it, coupled with the small podium, makes it hard to establish a unique presence that such a large building needs.

I do understand that with a very competitive market, the Soho folks have to up the ante if they are to attract buyers in what will be a very crowded market. So they have abandoned the square glass box design recently approved by City Hall, and gone back to a wavy exterior as shown in the picture above. This also has the virtue of appealing to the lay audience, such as Planning Committee members.

I’m not sure how well it will play to the design review committee composed of trained architects, or even planning staff. Second strike, is that Claridge has already borrowed some of the wavy exterior for their tower.

Third strike, is that the city has called for world-class buildings on the site, and this design is definitely a copy, derived from the Aqua Tower in Chicago. Ottawa had a lot of “copytecture” in the 70’s and 80’s (Place de Ville, the old-Skyline-now-Delta, Barrister House, etc) but we were a much smaller city then. Are we still willing accept copies of famous buildings or do we demand originals?

Fourth strike, the Aqua tower is huge, about 80 stories, and is a large surface on which to draw the computer-generated waves.And it is set on a 28 acre site (see below). Soho is much smaller. Can it wear its big brother’s clothes and still look dressed up or will it look ridiculous?

aqua bldg chicago


It is worth noting that the Richcraft proposed twin towers for the Dow Motors site — spitting distance from the Soho site —  tries to leverage their two towers as one canvas, with spirals starting on one tower and continuing on the second.

The fifth strike against the Soho tower is market reality. Claridge has front row, and the first building. They can charge a hefty premium per square foot for their space. Soho cannot capture that same premium being later out of the gate and one row back, where every buyer is reminded every time they look out the window that they didn’t buy the front row. The proposed Soho tower is expensive to build. Truly iconic buildings are very expensive to build. How rich is that Ottawa condo market?

I don’t think the Soho appeal for more height via a wavy-exterior is a slam-dunk. There is still some distance between the plan and winning the game.


for interest, here’s a Toronto building that is “inspired” by the Aqua, but certainly not a pure copy, and much cheaper to build. Will Soho evolve into something like this:

IMG_0788It would be nice if Roderick Lahey, Soho’s architect, took inspiration from the Aqua but applied more of his own originality and talents to creating a me-first building instead of a me-two.


3 thoughts on “Soho Italia: please sir, can I have some more?

  1. Lahey is such a hack! One of the worst architects in Ottawa in my opinion. Not only does this rendering present a building that is very similar to both Claridge’s Icon and the Aqua tower in Chicago, the viewpoint of the render is nearly identical to the one presented by Claridge (minus the depth of field). Gross!

    1. I prefer this one to Claridge, considering this was the original design of Soho Italia, which Claridge copied after Soho changed their rendering to flat sides.

  2. Ottawa definitely deserves better. Not only is the building a copy, but as you pointed out, it is based on a building that has been already copied before in a Canadian city. I’m confident that we could do better, and I hope the committee sends them back to the drawing board.

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