One of the most important green trends of the last few years has been the return of homebuyers and builders to the hearts of our cities. That's why I have been so fond of the work of PostGreen in Philadelphia; the greenest house is the one that is in the right place. (see For Saving Energy, Like Real Estate, The Three Most Important Things Are Location, Location and Location)
That's why I am impressed with MODERNest House 1, designed and built in Toronto by Kyra Clarkson and Christopher Glaisek. It is part of a growing trend towards clean, modern design in the heart of the city, often in parts that were once considered a bit disreputable.
There used to be a couple of rules when it came to real estate development in Toronto: keep it traditional, usually faux Victorian, put brick on the front and always, always have a main floor two piece bathroom. the architects and developers of MODERNest break all kinds of rules with their new house.
For one thing, it is very clearly modern and minimalist, with some lovely touches like the glass beside the stair on the ground floor that gets around the silly building code requirements for vertical pickets that makes stairs so clunky looking.
For another, it is really wide open inside; the traditional Toronto home would put the kitchen at the front or the back; here they put it in the middle, which maximizes natural light in living spaces.
The Leslieville area was primarily working class housing, and much of it was, frankly, not very well built. But it is central, close to everything, seriously urban. The promotional materials capitalize on the trend:
We get urban living. We live downtown, we are raising our family downtown, and we thrive on the cultural life of downtown.
John Bentley Mays, the Globe and Mail's architecture critic, had a few complaints, notably the lack of the ground floor bathroom and the fairly dark middle bedroom on the second floor. With respect to the first, one should note that there is a second bath in the basement, and there isn't a lot of room on the ground floor for a powder room. As for the middle bedroom on the second floor, this is a major problem with new construction under the Ontario building code; old houses have windows on the side that one is allowed to maintain, but they are not allowed in new construction within four feet of the lot line. Bentley Mays thinks they could have done better.
It’s always hard to get natural light into a room at the centre of a house, of course, but trying to solve this old problem here would have been worth the architects’ effort. By not tackling it, the designers have simply reproduced, in a modernist idiom, a bothersome condition common in conventional Toronto houses that are, like this one, packed tightly within the city’s residential fabric.
I am not so sure, and think that the little niche is rather clever. The designers have taken some of the most intractable problems of designing a small modern house in Toronto and solved them neatly. More at MODERNest.