Re-imagining the unimaginative - a proposed development on Cowan Ave / by Oliver Dang

I'm all for densification in the City, especially if it can provide some much needed affordable housing, but I think it's a problem when the rich fabric of Toronto gets torn down to be replaced with some unimaginative development. On a recent bike ride in Parkdale (which according to Wikipedia has the "largest collection of Victorian Houses in North America"), I came across this proposed development on Cowan Ave which would knock down two brick Victorian houses to develop a 30+ unit apartment building.

A bit run-down... but still beautiful and workable.

A bit run-down... but still beautiful and workable.

According to the Zoning Amendment application, this is the intention of the proposed development:

"A four- storey addition will be constructed between the two buildings, which will serve as a hallway to connect the two buildings. A fourth floor addition and a four-storey rear addition will also be constructed."

This sounds good, but as you can see in the proposed drawing below, it looks like a completely new development with no reference to the existing Victorian houses.

The handwritten note says it all - by the way, it wasn't me.

The handwritten note says it all - by the way, it wasn't me.

This brings up a larger issue/conversation that I recently had with some fellow architects about developing and increasing density around heritage buildings (to note, these two Victorian homes are not heritage buildings). On the one hand, we need to keep these heritage buildings to preserve our history and the city fabric (much of Europe would not have the same charm if all the buildings were consistently torn down for new ones). But to increase density within the City, we must look at how to build/add-on to existing buildings without completely destroying them (although, Japan has a fascinating history about this, which you can read about here).

There are a few good examples of how this is can be done, like the Rotman Expansion on the University of Toronto Campus and a new proposal by W M Fares in Halifax, spearheaded by my good friend and architect Jacob JeBailey. Both projects preserve the existing fabric, while creating more density that isn't another condo or unimaginative development.

As for the Cowan Avenue development, below is my vision for what could be an interesting project that is more in line with their written proposal. What would you envision? Is there a better or alternative way to increase density without erasing the urban fabric? Let me know in the comments below.