Toronto Condo Towers Now City's Tallest Buildings
By Suan Pigg
Canderel’s sleek new condo building sprouting from the ground at Yonge and Gerrard Sts. has a title that’s just waiting to be toppled — Canada’s tallest residential building.
When all 78 storeys are complete, Aura will tower 272 metres and — for a while at least — surpass everything in the city except the CN Tower and First Canadian Place.
But when it comes to being biggest on the planet, Aura has quite a few floors to go. If completed today, it would be No. 16th on the list of residential towers now dominating skylines that used to be almost the sole domain of iconic office towers.
Just over a decade ago, some 85 per cent of the tallest buildings boasted the names of some of the world’s biggest brands — Chrysler and Sears — and were symbols of intense competition between cities such as Chicago and New York.
But last year, for the first time in history, less than half the top 100 tallest buildings were offices. The rest were houses in the heavens that are stretching to such unthinkable heights, the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has come up with a new phrase — mega tall — to describe the growing trend towards mixed-use buildings (usually combining apartments, offices and retail space) towering more than 600 metres.
“If you talk to architects, they say there are very few limits at this point in terms of how high a building can go,” says Kevin Brass, spokesperson for the council, an international clearing house on highrise information for architects, engineers and enthusiasts who get dizzy just trying to keep on top of what’s going up.
The kilometre-high Kingdom Tower planned for Saudi Arabia is set to overtake the UAE’s Burj Khalifa as the tallest in the world, but “architects and engineers say they can go higher,” says Brass. “The limits are really economics — it becomes much more expensive the higher you go.”
Up until last December, the 40-year-old council’s top category was “supertalls” — the record number of buildings, 88 completed last year, that exceeded 300 metres. That number is expected to climb to 96 this year and hit 110 by 2013.
But seeing the trend swinging upwards even more, the council added mega-tall to its rating system last December for buildings over 600 metres. So far, there is just one in the world, Burj Khalifa, with almost 830 metres of soaring office, apartment and retail space.
By 2020, there are expected to be seven more, most of them residential/office towers in Asia which is overtaking North America for supremacy in the skies, says Brass.
“While the UAE grabs headlines, it’s really Asia driving tall building construction,” he adds. “Ten of the 20 tallest buildings in the world by 2020 will be in China. North America, which once dominated, now is an also-ran accounting for only five of the 88 (tallest towers) built last year.”
The move to mega tall isn’t without its risks, notes Brass. The three Es are particular challenges: Evacuating people quickly, making sure elevators are staggered for speedy use and ensuring the building is energy efficient.
And they definitely have their detractors. Unesco has warned both London and Liverpool that they could lose world heritage site designations because of highrise development that is compromising the “visual integrity” of sites such as the Tower of London.
Canderel didn’t set out to build Canada’s tallest residential building, says Riz Dhanji, vice-president of sales and marketing for the condo project surrounded by hoardings boasting that you can “own a piece of the sky.”
The height just made sense for the site, given that it’s just steps from the subway line and downtown jobs, in the heart of a city intent on intensification.
The project is some 50 per cent taller than Canderel’s next biggest project, the nearby College Park Phase I, and that meant the need for careful pre-planning, stresses Dhanji.
The building has three construction elevators, instead of the usual one or two. They move manpower during the day and materials at night.
Aura will have two condo corporations, instead of the usual one, so that tenants can occupy the first 55 floors and close on their units while the finishing touches are put on floors 56 to 78 before buyers move in and close on those units.
That will also minimize the chaos of move-in day, given there will be 985 units with close to 1,500 occupants.
“When we did College Park (back in the early part of the millennium) people just weren’t accustomed to tall towers,” says Dhanji. “I think the city has grown up since then.
“People understand we’re in a major, cosmopolitan city and that we don’t have the land anymore to grow outwards. In order to handle the number of people who are coming here to live, we have to go taller.”
In fact, Dhanji thinks that’s now a point of pride.
“I think there is a lot of prestige now to living in the tallest condo in Canada.”