Memo From Toronto: Insider’s Take
The Design Agency, which recently created the interiors for the penthouse residences at the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto, and interiors for Momofuku Toronto and Soho House, is led by three partners: Anwar Mekhayech, Matt Davis and Allen Chan. InteriorDesign.net recently asked Chan about the rapidly changing face of Toronto and the city’s current and future hot spots.
Interior Design: The Toronto building boom is obviously good for your business, but what do you think it means for the city as a whole?
Allen Chan: Change. In this case, change is a great barometer for growth—architecturally, culturally and economically. It’s amazing to see the urban transformation that has taken place over the past 15 years. The decision to change the zoning of the downtown core, and develop it as mixed use (commercial-residential), has given a huge economic boost to the city, giving rise to a larger downtown population, and all the infrastructure required to support it. It’s a great boost to the city’s profile and its economy, and Toronto has always attracted a culturally diverse population, making it one of the most desirable places in the world to live! Projects like the Yorkville Plaza, Imperial Plaza, and the King Edward Residence speak to that need for housing within a city in transition.
ID: What image has Toronto projected to the world from a design perspective in the past and is that changing with the contemporary facelift it’s received?
AC: In the past, Toronto was definitely seen as a conservative city when it came to architecture and design, but in the last 15 years we’ve seen Toronto play host to some of the biggest names in architecture, and develop some of the best international design talent around. Canadian design talent has been well sought out across the pond, and our own work with Patron Capital and Generator Hostels in Europe is a clear indication of that. It seems as though Toronto has become one of the new design capitals of North America.
ID: Which of the city’s neighborhoods fascinate you the most and why?
AC: Regent Park due to its revitalization goals—$1 billion over 15 years to change the face of Canada’s biggest and oldest social housing project into a mixed-use, mixed-income melting pot. As controversial as it may seem, it’s fascinating to see the changes occurring weekly in the area. Our work at the Liberty Market building paved the way for the entire area, and it required the insight of a developer like Lifetime Group to see that potential. Regent Park is an extremely ambitious project, but part of that fascination is how this social experiment will work out in the long term. It’s interesting to see urban reclamation projects and what affect they have on the surrounding context. Great architecture and design has the ability to make change, and the hope is that this project will do just that.
ID: What are a few of your favorite design spaces in Toronto (aside from the ones you’ve contributed to) and why?
AC: One that’s no longer around was BAR ONE. It was a great little place that was beautifully detailed, thanks to Ralph Giannone. Also, Shim Sutcliffe’s Integral House—just a beautiful house, inside and out. Again, great spaces and great use of the site. I also like Toronto’s Underpass Park for its inventive use of derelict spaces, and my two-year-old son loves it! And Santiago Calatrava’s BCE Place Galleria. When I first saw this in 1992 I was astonished by its gracefulness, scale, and structural honesty.
ID: What effect do you think the almost 150 new residential towers (15 of them more than 150 meters tall) being built in Toronto will have on not only the skyline, but also on street life, traffic and lifestyles in the city?
AC: There’s always the good with the bad. The intensification in Toronto is unprecedented, and it’s hard to predict what the long-term effects of such huge vertical infrastructures will mean to a city, which is slow to upgrade its transportation infrastructure. This means more congestion all around the city. The great part is that it has completely revitalized the downtown core, energizing a once barren downtown district. Great restaurants, cultural centers, hotels, public buildings, open spaces are all part of this growth and building boom. It’s attracted great chefs like Daniel Boulud and David Chang to open up shop here, as well as attracting international groups like Soho House.