DUKE of the Junction

This month UrbanToronto announced the winners of their 2017 Best Buildings, as chosen by readers; TAS was proud to see DUKE Condos take first place in the 15-37 Metres category. We chatted with Richard Witt, Executive Principal at Quadrangle, about how this building took shape.

How did the creation of DUKE begin?

Often these kind of projects start with the developer saying, “we’re thinking about buying this site, what do you think we could do with it?” There’s a review of regulatory policies, etc., but it’s also a question of positioning. When we came to it in 2011, the Junction was so far out of people’s realm of thought, and this site specifically had been empty for a long time. Because of that it’s a much more exciting proposition. You’re not just creating a building, you’re creating a building which is a catalyst for change.

What was different about this project for Quadrangle?

Most of our other projects at this time had been much more central. In a way The Junction is a perfect place to do this kind of building. It’s an exciting and vibrant area, with all sorts of interesting shops owned by real people. There’s a very strong community to it. Also, at the time we started DUKE, a lot of buildings were being targeted at investors. DUKE is really a building for end users, targeted for real people to live in the suites.

What goals did you have for the building design?

Given that it’s a bit bigger than the other buildings in the area, it was important to us to be a sensitive new neighbour. What drove the expression of the building was the way it fits in—how it could serve to animate the street and enhance the pedestrian realm. The street relationship is very important.

We spent a lot of time designing several small commercial spaces on the ground level, to fit in with the rhythm of the street. In the end the LCBO took the entire space, which I think most of the neighbourhood is very happy with, and in the future it can always return to the original configuration. We also wanted to animate the laneways at the back of the building, so we created these live/work units which have studio space on the ground level and private living space up above.

Was there anything new you were able to try that you hadn’t before?

It’s a funny process. It seems like every building of this type should be the same, but there’s always something new, something different about the context or conditions. The variegated facade worked in a modular system that allowed us to create better units in a way we hadn’t done before, to interchange the units which would create relationships to the existing and future street datums. This was also the first building which we studied using 3D prints, which made a big difference in our understanding of it. The building materials were a step above as well; we used an exquisitely beautiful white brick imported from Spain on the exterior.

These are small things to people on the outside, but when you change the way things are usually done in an industry, it makes a big difference. You need a supportive partner like TAS to bring all of it to fruition. Our whole team is incredibly proud of this building, and really excited about future contributions to the neighbourhood.