Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Curtain Walls coming to high-end Toronto high-rise condos

The December 1st Saturday Star ran a feature story and lengthy sidebar that I wrote about Curtain Wall windows for high-end Toronto high-rise condos. Both the feature and the sidebar article is available for reading on the Star's website .

Curtain rising on glass walls
High-profile projects are trading concrete walls for massive windows thanks to curtain-wall' technology

Dec 01, 2007 04:30 AM
Stephen Weir
Special to the Star

Is the curtain set to come down on the traditional, aluminum-framed condo window? Is a new industrial style about to eliminate condominium owners' two biggest pains in the glass – moisture and mould?

Toronto is about to find out as several highrise project designers have decided that ultra-expensive curtain wall glass is the chic way to let light in and keep water out.

Windows come in many tints, shapes and sizes but almost all are installed using what builders call a window wall system: Glass goes into an aluminum frame which, in turn, is attached to the inside of a building's outer walls. Although relatively cheap to build, mount and repair, a poorly installed window wall can allow damaging moisture into a condo unit.

For residential projects where money is not a significant concern, floor-to-ceiling suite windows appear ready to make concrete outer walls obsolete.

Four soon-to-be-built projects – the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, the Yann Weymouth-designed 77 Charles St. West project, The Florian and the Four Seasons Residences in Yorkville– will hang their windows onto the frames of their buildings using an industrial glass system known as the curtain wall.

"Up to this point, almost every condo in the city has used some form of the tried-and-true window wall," says Darius Rybak, the project manager for 77 Charles St. West. "But when you look at the office towers in Toronto's downtown core, you see that glass is everything. Those 10- and 12-foot-tall windows look strikingly different than what you get in a condo residence. That is because the office towers don't put their windows inside a wall, they use glass to become the wall ... hence the term curtain-wall system. We are taking that industrial concept and using it in our next downtown project."

The 77 Charles St. condos, designed by architect Weymouth who made a name for himself designing the Paris Louvre's glass pyramid, are an artsy venture in waiting. Once the existing four-storey Lycée Français private school has been shut down and the site cleared, Rybak will oversee the construction of the 16-storey multi-use structure for Aspen Ridge Homes.

At street level, the new building will blend in with the University of Toronto neighbourhood. The first three floors are limestone, with understated doors and traditional windows. This will be home to Kintore College, a small religious residence and educational centre.

On top of this heavy-looking structure will be a stacked, seemingly transparent 13-storey all-glass tower. The condos inside will range from 1,200-square-feet lower-level suites, to 6,000-square-feet penthouse units. No price has been announced for the top floor, but the rest range from a reported $1.2 million to $6 million.

This will be a radically different-looking glass-wrapped condo in a part of Toronto where windows are making an exotic statement. Just a half a block away is Daniel Libeskind's controversial Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum.

"Our curtain wall will use large sections of glass which will give total vision to each floor," Rybak says. "The individual units of glass will be five-feet-wide by four-feet-high. The suites we have are 10 feet from floor to ceiling, while the penthouse will have 12-foot ceilings."

Because the glass is not supporting any weight (aside from its own dead load) the height and width of the glass is considerably larger than traditional windows.

"This type of system is probably about three times more expensive than a window wall. The thing is we aren't making more money on this – we are providing a high-end product – we call it our jewel."

Ignoring the cost of the curtain wall, the system will save money for homeowners over time. It is designed to block air and water from being pushed inside by heavy winds. It also puts a stop to outward air leakage, saving on heating and cooling costs.

"Water, be it windblown rain or snow, can get into a suite through the window. It could take years, but when there is moisture behind drywall the danger of mould is real," says Richard Tucker, director of construction for Graywood Developments Ltd, the company building the 53-storey Residence of the Ritz-Carlton. "From a practical sense, a curtain wall eliminates the worry of warranty claims that other buildings face because of mould and moisture damage."

Window-washing firms are probably already in an advanced frenzied stage of salvation as they impatiently wait for the new Ritz-Carlton hotel and condominium tower on Wellington St. (kitty-corner from Roy Thomson Hall) to be completed. The structure will use a curtain wall system that might, at first glance, make one think of a giant terrarium turned on its side.

"The benefit of the curtain wall is that the residents and hotel guests get a superior product," Tucker says. "We won't start hanging the windows until well on in the building process, but once we start the glass will go on rather quickly – I think we can do a floor a day."

The Ritz is working with Sota Glass in Brampton. The company, owned by Juan Speck, designs and exports the Canadian-designed curtain walls to large-scale projects worldwide. Most of the customers are builders of large office towers, but already in other cities developers are finding that the market for high-end condos will bear the added cost of the curtain wall.

"There isn't (an) off-the-rack curtain wall. They have to be custom-built to take into account (the shape and slope of the building)" Tucker says. "We will, of course, order extras in case of breakage."

Earlier reports said the Ritz-Carlton would use a tinted glass. That apparently is not the case; the hotel and condo is going au natural.

"Tinted windows are so very much a look of the '90s," Tucker says. "Even a slight colour clouds the view. The Ritz-Carlton will be installing haze-free, crystal-clear glass."

Living hundreds of feet above the city with only two sheets of glass between you and the pavement, does one have to worry about accidentally banging into a window and falling out?

"This is tough glass, similar to what is already in place at the new Four Seasons (Centre for the Performing Arts) opera house. It might be transparent, but it is double-paned and industrial strength. (It is built to withstand gale-force winds.)," Tucker says.

Of greater concern for many, likely, will be getting used to living in a glass home. Standing in front of a window that doesn't even appear to be there, 40 storeys above a city that never sleeps, may make condo owners feel on display. But that is why designers invented curtains in the first place.

Sidebar Article

Luxury condo to be set under glass
Report typo or correction
The Florian developer was first to adapt curtain-wall technology to new residences

Dec 01, 2007 04:30 AM
Stephen Weir
Special to the Star

The Diamante Development Group was the first builder in the world to adapt the science of curtain-wall glass specifically to the building of two new residential developments – the "Domus" condominium and townhouse project in Yorkville and One City Hall condos near Bay and Dundas Sts. Now Diamante is taking orders on a lavish curtain-walled tower that will add more than a touch of glass to Yorkville.

The Florian is to be a 22-storey luxury condo tower (suites start at $1 million) that will benefit from Diamante's experience with walls of glass.

"We are using a curtain wall to dramatically accent both the north and south corners of the building (at the corner of Davenport Ave. and McAlpine St.)," says Paolo Palamara, Diamante co-president.

"In most buildings there is a line of metal where the outer walls meet. In the Florian we won't be using metal – the curtain wall allows us to use industrial-strength silicon to join the outside glass walls, so there isn't that strip to break (the sight lines)."

Palamara, a classically educated Italian architect, now heads up a modern company that believes strongly in the advantages of using industrial curtain walls in residential projects. However, in using the all-glass wall Diamante has had to develop new building techniques to overcome some of the problems that this style of building can cause.

From the street a curtain wall looks like a solid wall of glass, however, if one looks closely where the floor and ceiling are, there are opaque sections – spandrel glass – that hide where the mullions connect the glass panels.

This zone between floors is subject to intense heat in the summer and cold in the winter. However, Diamante has done a lot of engineering work on it and has devised a venting system and insulating technique to bleed off excess heat and insulate against the cold.

The glass itself is thick to keep out the elements – the outer pane is six millimetres thick, the inner sheet five mm thick. These are double-glazed Argon-filled windows that have a low-E coating. The glass has a grey tint, which the builder says people won't notice when looking out their windows. The slight colourization helps reduce heat gain.

In addition to transferring heat and cold, the mullions can also transmit sound. A 22-storey curtain-wall system can transmit the sound of a human voice from top-to-bottom as clear as ... glass.

In reality, however, that's not something a condo buyer would want to live with. So Diamante has devised a way to ensure tranquility.

"We have developed an installation technique that prevents (sound transference) from happening in our buildings," says Palamara. "We basically have developed a way to interrupt sound waves. We use sealant material and insulation in the mullions which interrupts and absorbs the frequency waves.

"From a technical perspective," says Palamara, "a curtain has an inherent trait of noise transference along the glazing system. You can be on the fifth-floor, put your ear to the glass and hear what is being said on the 15th. It amplifies the sound. The sound travels through mullion channels on the interior of the curtain-wall system where the panes of glass come together."

Diamante has installed a section of curtain-wall glass in its Yorkville model suite to study how the elements affect it prior to the May 2008 start of construction on the Florian.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Bob Bateman says his most important painting is a dead dolphin

This article appeared in Diver Magazine. No, I didn't get a by-line. sigh. (And I am the travel editor). Here is the orginal story, it was edited before appearing in the November issue of Diver.

Art to inspire people to respect the planet
Bateman retrospective takes aim at industrial fishing

By Stephen Weir 11 September 2007

World-famous wildlife artist figures that the most important work he has painted isn’t a soaring eagle or a majestic lion, but rather it is a painting that shows a dead albatross and a drowned dolphin caught in a drift net. The canvas, entitled Driftnet, is the showcase work in a new traveling Bateman exhibition that will visit five cities in Canada and the United States over the next year and a half.

“ The scene is painted inside a drift net. There is a dead Pacific White-sided dolphin and a dead Lysan Albatross,” explained Robert Bateman at the opening of his exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection near Toronto last month. “ It is a common enough scene -- air breathing animals dying in a driftnet. They call it bycatch. My wife and I call it by-kill.”

According to the wildlife artist, in the 1980s it was estimated that 31,000 miles of driftnets were set each night in the Pacific. These drifting “walls of death” captured untold numbers of dolphins, whales, pelagic birds, sharks and turtles along with the targeted fish. Conservative estimates put this bycatch at 20% of the total commercial catch.

“ The United Nations has placed a moratorium on driftnet fishing, but, this highly destructive activity continues to be common practice in the Mediterranean Sea,” continued Bateman. “By-kill is a big part of what is wrong with industrial fishing. This is the devastation of an ecosystem and the impoverishment of our planet.”

The 77-year old artist was born, raised and educated in Toronto. After a lengthy career as a teacher in Ontario, Bateman moved to British Columbia, where he continues to paint. He is an ardent conservationist and has donated millions and millions of dollars to the World Wildlife Fund.

“It is not that I am against fishing,” he explained. “ I am against industrial fishing. We have managed to kill off 90% of the planet’s fisheries … just look at the cod stocks off the east coast. Industrial fishing is now using every high tech tool to strip the sea of that last 10%.”

“ We have become a Wal-Mart civilization where shopping is the answer to everything,” he told Diver Magazine. “We are spending our grandchildren’s money. If this (pointing at his Driftnet painting) isn’t stopped, those grandchildren will have a mighty debt to pay.”

The Bateman exhibition includes 50 wildlife paintings, a number of sketches, and sculptures and covers 40 years of his work. The Art of Robert Bateman was in Toronto until October 28th. The show has now traveled to the United States for a fourteen-month tour. The exhibition will open on November 24th 2007 at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. Other stops on the tour include The Wildlife Experience, Denver, Colorado, the National Wildlife Art Museum in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the San Diego Natural History Museum in San Diego, California.

“ The biggest message of my work?” Bateman asked. “Nature is fabulous, it is varied and full of endless surprises. But if society has no conscience ….”


Monday, 15 October 2007

Talking to the Whale Shark keeper - story written for Diver Magazine website

Writing for Diver Magazine's Website

I have been helping add content to Diver Magazine's website (divermag.com). There is a real person power shortage at Diver's headquarters. They are down an employee or two and keeping the website going appears to be a catch as catch can assignment. Most of the material I have written for the site never has been posted. For some reason there is a problem posting photographs on the site.

During September I wrote to the Georgia Aquarium and conducted an email interview about two new whale sharks they had been given by an aquarium in Taiwan. The story, picture and interview have been lanquishing in my growing file of not-yet published stories. So, before the factoids raised by the Georgia Aquarium are stale dated, I have decided to run the story and photo on this web page.

Whale Sharks and the Aquarium Keeper

Early this summer the Georgia Aquarium welcomed two new live whale sharks to their Ocean Voyager exhibit. The whale sharks, both males, were given the Taiwanese names Yushan and Taroko, to honour their country of origin.

Yushan, 13 feet 7 inches long, and Taroko, 15 feet four inches long, were flown more than 8,000 miles on a specially configured B747 freighter aircraft from Taipei, Taiwan, through Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta. Both whale sharks were under the care and supervision of Georgia Aquarium professional staff and maintained by a highly advanced marine life support system.

Yushan and Taroko are the latest in the Georgia Aquarium's 4R Program (Rehabilitation, Relocation, Rescue and Research), a strategy designed to make a positive difference in the health and well being of aquatic life from around the world.

"The Georgia Aquarium is advancing scientific understanding of whale sharks by combining field research with in-house study through our 4R Program," said Jeff Swanagan, president and executive director, the Georgia Aquarium "We will release results later this year from research conducted in Mexico and Taiwan which we hope will help the world gain a better understanding of the migration patterns and feeding habits of whale sharks in their native habitats."

The Georgia Aquarium is the first facility of its kind outside of Asia to house whale sharks. The Aquarium partnered with Taiwan to bring all their whale sharks - Yushan, Taroko, Norton, Alice and Trixie - to the facility's Ocean Voyager exhibit, a habitat specially designed to house up to six full grown whale sharks. Through their partnership, the Georgia Aquarium, the government of Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta are taking steps toward long-term management of the worldwide whale shark population. Taiwan reduced their whale shark fishing quota from 60 in 2006 to 30 in 2007 and will move to zero in 2008. The Georgia Aquarium hopes such positive practices will encourage other countries to adopt sustainable seafood practices and educate the public on the subject of aquatic conservation.

Divermag.com talks to Dave Santucci Communications Director at the
Aquarium about the two new Whale Sharks

Three months after Yushan and Taroko were moved to the Georgia Aquarium, Divermag.com reporter Stephen Weir, contacted Dave Santucci, of the Georgia Aquarium. The Communications Director was asked about the condition of the two Whale Sharks. What follows are portions of the online interview that was conducted earlier this month.

Stephen Weir: Have the sharks grown since arriving in the US. And if so, by how much?

Dave Santucci: Our two new whale sharks, Yushan and Taroko are doing quite well. They have grown between 6 inches and a foot each in the three months they’ve been here.

Stephen Weir: How big will they grow and what is their life length expectations?

Dave Santucci: Part of the research being conducted by the Georgia Aquarium is trying to understand the natural history of whale sharks found off the coasts of Mexico and Taiwan. Our observations in Mexico where that most adult whale sharks were between 5-8 meters and of similar size in Taiwan.

In terms of life expectancy, there is no study generally accepted by scientists on the life span of whale sharks. We know for certain they can live at least thirteen years because that is how long one has been in a Japanese Aquarium. It is still there and doing well.

Stephen Weir: Since the pair are North Pacific fish, do you have to use Pacific Ocean water, or does home grown water work

Dave Santucci: Whale sharks are found around the world in waters ranging from as far north as the East Coast of the United States to as far south as Australia. We use water similar to most Aquariums home or professional and that is fresh water mixed with Instant Ocean .

Stephen Weir: Have your aquarium divers been in the tank with them? If so, how do the whale sharks react. Are they actually aware of the divers? What little I know, as a diver, about the sharks, they don't seem to aware of humans?

Dave Santucci: Divers enter the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit every day. Daily divers go into clean windows and weekly they go into vacuum and inspect the filtration system. The sharks for the most part go about their business when the divers are in the water, they are aware of the divers and will avoid them if needed.

Stephen Weir: Are there more whale sharks coming? And when are they coming?

Dave Santucci: No.

Stephen Weir: Have the whale sharks proven to popular with visitors?

Dave Santucci: The Georgia Aquarium has had nearly 6 million visitors in the first 21 months of operation. Just about all of our visitors have never seen a whale shark before coming to the Georgia Aquarium. It is the perfect ambassador species for sharks because it is a gentle giant and one that inspires people to take notice. We take advantage of people's interest when they see our Ocean Voyager exhibit and hand out sustainable seafood cards that help consumers make responsible decisions when ordering seafood.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Green Roof Story in Saturday Toronto Star

Green roofs take root on city buildings

More than 100 in the GTA have adapted the pioneer practice for the eco-conscious present
Sep 29, 2007 04:30 AM
Stephen Weir
Special to the Star


The drive to develop environmentally friendly, energy-efficient condominiums has given new meaning to sod-turning ceremonies.

More than 100 commercial and condo buildings in the Greater Toronto Area have unveiled "green roofs" – a 21st-century take on the sod-roof homes that were popular in pioneer days.

Condominium roofs, patios and decks covered in flowers, shrubbery and slow-growing plants are sprouting up all over, so much so that the International Home Show (running from this Friday until Oct. 8) at the International Centre has set up a Green Home Theatre with four daily seminars on eco-building issues, including the living roof.

"Toronto has stepped into an era where the protection of the environment and sustainability are major focuses of our city's future. A green roof – one that is covered with living plant material – will become a major component of our daily lives," says Horace Lee, a Toronto biomedical engineer and the owner of Green Space Roofing.

"It is the same (as the 19th-century sod roof). A green roof cools the environment in the summer and adds insulation in the winter. The living plants help filter out gaseous pollutants, reduce smog and make breathing easier."

Green Space Roofing was formed five years ago and has been installing live coverings on commercial buildings and condominiums for the past three. "The first thing I tell people is that a green roof is not a quick fix," says Lee, who will lecture at the show. "It is a commitment to the environment and it is costly to install.

"It is essentially a system that sits on top of an existing flat or a mildly sloping roof. We lay down high-quality waterproofing and a root repellent system," he says. "Then there are three major components that must be installed: a drainage system, filter cloth, and the plants anchored in a lightweight growing medium."

When the Prairies were opened up by sodbusters – European farming settlers – their first homes were constructed with whatever could be harvested. Log walls, straw insulation, rock foundations and sod roofs were the materials of choice.

The sod offered substantial protection from the harsh climate. Sedum is the plant of choice for Lee's green roofs. It comes in many shapes, colours and sizes and is known for its water-storing leaves and hardiness.

"However, there are green-roof designs that use many different flowering plants and shrubs and require a deeper growing base, decking and regular maintenance."

The cost for a sedum-anchored green roof runs about $25 to $35 per square foot. Bringing in shrubbery and wildflowers costs more based on the variety and density.

There are a number of green-roof companies in Ontario and most offer yearly maintenance program.

Toronto builders can reduce the cost of a green roof by applying for a City of Toronto grant, says Peter Love, Ontario's first chief energy conservation officer with the Ontario Power Authority. The Green Roof Incentive Program will subsidize projects at a rate of $50 a square metre, he says.

"There are many benefits to a green roof, but we are most interested because of energy consumption issues," continues Love. "The insulation factor alone should markedly reduce the power use of large buildings. It is too soon to really evaluate the size and rate of the savings here in Toronto, but in other jurisdictions it is obvious that it works."

It's difficult to price a green roof, says Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the association that represents the green roof industry in North America.

"Each one is so different; it is never a do-it-yourself project. So you can't dumb it down and price it like a standard roof you'd buy from the Home Depot.

"However, a building owner considering a green roof should budget on doubling the cost of what a traditional roof would cost," Peck says.

"There are also benefits to a city's water and sewer system," says Love, who will also speak at the Home Show. "Green Roofs decrease the total amount of runoff, which otherwise would flow into the sewers."

International Home Show

WHEN: Oct. 5-8. Friday noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun- day and Monday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

WHERE: International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd. at Derry Rd.

WHAT: The show has established a Green Street Pavilion, a 30,000-square-foot showcase of state-of-the-art "green" products, services and building technologies. There will be on-stage presenters four times a day.

COST: $12; youths and seniors $9; children 8 and under free.

CONTACT: 416-512-1305 or visit internationalhomeshow.ca

Monday, 10 September 2007

Underwater city? The future of Toronto's condo industry

Artist's conception of underwater hotel

Canadian astronaut sits at a picnic table behind the Ontario Science Centre and talks about water and the future of man.


The Toronto Star published a speculative article that I wrote about underwater condos in its 5 kilo Saturday September 8th edition. I am having trouble with my mac posting an automatic link. Until I get that solved, you can use the following to see the article. http://www.thestar.com/living/article/253235

The Toronto Star edited the story for bad grammer, length and photo selection. Some sections of the story were removed and most of the pictures I supplied were not used. The Star used a file photo and a few pictures from one of the underwater resorts. Below is the orginal story and some of the photographs I took for the piece. The Star version of my story reads better, is tighter and the layout is eye catching, however, you might find it interesting to read the longer more extensive version of the piece.

Somewhere .... Beyond the lake -- the uncut version


Dennis Chamberland in a minisub

Lloyd Godson wading in the water on Toronto's Ryerson University campus - photo by sweir

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to me
Wet Bars are a given in condo of the future

By Stephen Weir

Three decades from now the most sought-after view in the city of Toronto may well be the wreck of the Sligo. Seen through the pressurized window of an underwater condo, the stark wooden ribs of the 19th century schooner reach upwards towards the surface of Lake Ontario. To highlight the historic remains, the condo association could place lights around the bones of the Sligo so that at night residents can watch freshwater salmon schooling around this underwater landmark.

The Sligo is one of three visually dramatic shipwrecks that rest on the bottom of Lake Ontario, close to Toronto’s shoreline. Now only visited by scuba divers, breakthroughs in both building and air cleansing technologies, mean that one day, multiple dwelling habitats -- submerged condos – could be built within site of the lake bottom attractions.

Captain Kirk and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise called space the final frontier. It isn’t, the last frontier is those parts of the planet covered by water. There are currently more people living in space than living submerged in H20. More research dollars are spent on establishing habitats on the moon and Mars than underwater.

“ Why does everyone live on land anyway?” asks Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield. “ 3/4 of our planet is water, and yet mankind is clustered haphazardly on the land. From space you can easily see where people are congregated. You just look for the “Big Smear”, the bands of pollution that permanently surround our large cities.”

“ It is said that if we could handle the density of Manhattan, the whole population of North America could be placed in a state the size of Connecticut,” said Hadfield on a recent visit to the Ontario Science Centre. “ On land we have randomly chosen where we live. But in the water, there would have to be more order. Living underwater, like living in space has some challenges – breathable air, potable water, construction constraints and temperature – but there are advantages too. It would take housing pressures off agricultural land and allow (the city) to access underwater resources for cooling, insulation, electricity and of course water.”

Hadfield, like most other NASA astronauts, has spent time in the Aquarius permanent undersea laboratory. One of the world’s few underwater habitats the lab is 20 metres down, 5 kilometers east of the Florida Keys. The submerged building is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and used for a wide range of underwater research projects.

“People live under-the-water today for very short periods of time – usually a week or less, but sometimes on extended periods of up to two to three weeks. But no one has ever lived undersea permanently – not one person in all of history,” said Florida based author, explorer and former Mission Commander for seven NASA underwater missions, Dennis Chamberland. “My group is planning to establish the first permanent civilian colony off central Florida in 2012 and for the first time ever, mankind will have a permanent address undersea. So it will happen in the next few years, not 30!”

Mr. Chamberland’s Atlantica project will be using a donated submarine (originally built to hunt for the Loch Ness Monster) to establish three manned undersea habitats over the next 5 years. If the construction of the underwater station goes as planned, people will begin living on the bottom beginning in 2012.

“Humankind is attracted to the beautiful and exotic places of our solar system. Just as men will be attracted to one day living on the cliff sides of the Valley of the Mariners on Mars, mankind will be attracted to live in the beauty of the underwater regions of our own planet,” he continued.

Michael Schutte, the VP of Engineering at U.S. Submarines doesn’t believe it will take as long as 30 years before people are living on the bottom of Lake Ontario. The Toronto born and raised, mega-yacht designer is now based in Oregon overseeing the construction of an underwater five star hotel that will be placed on the edge of a coral cliff in the South Pacific.

“Living underwater is not a new idea. Hell, people in their forties and fifties who are in charge of investment funds and brokerage houses and who grew up on Scientific American, and Popular Mechanics know that it is doable. And, these people have the money to make it happen. With (our clients) the budget for toys is almost unlimited.”

“The technology is already here,” he continued. “In essence I am building a luxury yacht to sink beside a Fijian reef. People are willing spend $30 million on a boat, so why not an underwater hotel? The overall structure is steel and the windows are transparent acrylic plastic. The materials I use in building yachts are well suited for a sub sea construction.”

The 45-year old designer is in the US overseeing the above water construction of the Poseidon Undersea Resort which upon completion will be taken to Fiji and placed on the bottom of a deep lagoon. There will be 24 undersea hotel suites and apartments covering 51 square meters anchored on the ocean floor 12 metres down. Although the hotel will have a fleet of small submarines, getting down to the luxury suites (rumoured to be priced at $15,000-per-person, per-week) won’t require getting wet– the building will be connected to the surface by elevators and airshafts.

“The only reason you haven’t seen any underwater condos in Toronto yet is that farm land is literally dirt cheap and underwater construction is super expensive,” said Schutte. “ If you build a unit that begins at the bottom of the lake and breaks the surface, you are in essence simply building a basement onto a houseboat. Given the price of waterfront land in Muskoka, as prices rise the houseboat with a 10-story cement basement has more and more appeal.”

A decade ago a research project involving the Canadian Navy’s CORMORRANT dive tender found little life on the floor of Lake Ontario around Toronto’s Harbourfront area. Her mini-submarine found thick layers of scum and a blanket of zebra mussels (an invading species) on the bottom but few if any samples of natural vegetation.

But, filling in sections of Lake Ontario, albeit in relatively small blocks, present more political problems than construction roadblocks. Would this current wave of interest in underwater construction convince civic and provincial authorities to allow building in the very lake where Toronto draws its drinking water?

Blame much of the current worldwide interest in underwater projects on Lloyd Godson, a young Australian scientist who may soon be one of Canada’s newest TV stars. Earlier this year Godson, with the backing of the Australian National Geographic Magazine, spent 12 days living in a yellow steel capsule submerged in a flooded gravel pit. He built and sunk "the world's first self-sufficient, self-sustaining underwater habitat”.

Using solar power sensors up on the surface and riding a stationary bicycle to produce additional electricity to keep his lights and computers working Godson lived independent of terra firma. The air that he breathed was purified and recycled by algae soaked in his own urine. His algae garden absorbed the carbon dioxide he exhaled, and released oxygen for breathing (he did have to supplement his air supply with air from scuba tanks).

“ The demand for information from the media took me by surprise when I was underwater. I had visits from Good Morning America, Jay Ingram’s Discovery Show and we were front page from England to Taiwan. I was going to cut off interviews when the Toronto Star contacted me the second last day of the experiment,” explained Godson. “ I thought there would be calls from the local press but not on a global scale. My experiment captured people’s imagination. It has always been the world’s dream … that future where you can live underwater.”

After emerging from his steel cocoon, Godson was besieged with offers from the media to fund and film future extreme adventures. He was in Toronto earlier this summer to shoot a pilot TV show for Canada’s Cineflix Productions who want to make a 13-part series following Godson’s future projects.

“My quarry project was done on a shoestring, but, it shows that soon people can live underwater and it can be done cheaply,” continued Godson. “ My habitat wasn’t luxurious and there would have to be a lot of improvements to be usable again. I was living underwater with contact with the surface. I had a bed, a computer, a phone, email, plants and a fishing rod, (I went fishing). I wasn’t living like a survivor, I was doing alright, but mate, it was a bit boring.”

“ I discovered there are social disadvantages to living underwater. The fresh water quarry I was in was very murky … I couldn’t see much, so I lacked visual stimulation. It didn’t take long before I began to miss feeling the elements -- the wind and the sun –- and face-to-face, not email, contact with people. There is no noise underwater. If I turned off all the pumps, it was almost completely silent. If you are a people person, an underwater home is not for you.”

Sidebar #1

Poseidon Undersea Resort is not the only underwater habitat in the works. Also proposed are:

• In Macau there is a new gambling complex in the works. Melco PBL Entertainment, one of Asia’s leading developers wants to build an underwater-themed casino and three luxurious hotels, including the Hard Rock Hotel as part of its “City of Dreams” project.

• In Dubai, Crescent Hydropolis wants to construct the first of many Oceanic Settlements. They say their Hydropolis project will be the world's first luxury underwater hotel. It will include 220 suites and a submarine leisure complex. The company says that it is one of the largest contemporary construction projects in the world, and will cover an area of 260 hectares.

• The Chinese Economic Review reports that Shanghai will be home to China’s first five-star underwater hotel in 2009 when Shimao Group opens the Shanghai Shimao Wonderland. Apparently the builders have taken over an unused quarry beside a lake and plans to construct a 300 room hotel above and below the water. The complex re will include shopping, entertainment and sports facilities.

Somewhere .... Beyond the lake -- Sidebar written for Star but not used

Artist's conception of Ventbase Alpha - Ken Brown Mondolithic

Side Bar # 2
The pressures of living in a futuristic condo

Living underwater, under pressure, can hurt. According to Phil Nuyyten, the owner of Vancouver based Nuytco Research Ltd. (and the publisher of Diver Magazine) the secret to living below the surface is to make sure that the air pressure inside a sunken condo is always at “one atmosphere”, the same ambient air pressure that you experience standing on land in Toronto.

“ We can’t go mountain climbing without clothes and we can't go in the ocean without breathable air. We – mankind – are designed to live in a primordial swamp and we can’t stray too far from that narrow band, be it up or down,” explained Phil Nuytten. “ If the human body is breathing air and exposed to pressures beyond one atmosphere there are major physiological changes in the body. For example at depth pressure forces nitrogen out of your blood stream and saturates the body’s tissues.”

Before returning to the surface a person has to “decompress” to allow that nitrogen to reenter the blood stream. Without doing this, the nitrogen will expand inside the body causing a very painful, and often fatal condition known as the “bends” – decompression sickness.

“Of course, you can’t decompress every time you leave the habitat, it just isn’t practical – who has the time. (To overcome this) the air inside the building has to be at the same pressure as on land,” continued Nuytten. If the building actually begins above the water and builds down to lakebed, surface air is continually pumped to the bottom of the building to maintain that surface pressure at all floor levels avoiding potential health problems.

“ If there is no direct link to the surface, that is a different matter. You have to generate breathable air (at one atmosphere), you have power requirements and you have to be able to get people in and out with relative ease,” he said. “The science is already there but at what price? We have been talking about the big “move” underwater for years. But, the costs are high.”

Nuytten, should know. His company is a world leader in the development and operation of undersea technology. Nuytco designs, builds and operates one atmosphere diving suits, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. Nuytco has proposed Vent-based Alpha, a self-sustaining underwater habitat and mining colony that will one day be placed 2,000 metres underwater near fissures in the Earth’s crust on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean.

“Essentially, it will be like taking a cruise ship with several hundred people and parking it at the bottom of the ocean,” Nuytten likes to say. “After three or four generations, inhabitants will ask, are there really people who live on the surface?”

Who owns the lake bottom?

Artist conception of Dennis Chamberland's underwater habitat "Lions at the Gate"



By Stephen Weir

The layer of scum and muck that covers the bottom of Toronto’s harbour is thick, but, not as deep as the red tape a builder would have to wade through to construct an underwater condominium. Who owns the lakebed? Who controls the water and who would issue building permits are three important questions that don’t have definitive answers.

“By and large the city ends at the waterfront,” said Gary Wright, the city of Toronto’s Director of Community Planning. “ There are a few cases, notably in Etobicoke where landowners have Riparian land rights (land owner is entitled to use the water on or bordering his property), but we wouldn’t be in a position to issue building permits.”

Even though the city does police the lakefront, operates ferries through into it, has built piers and laid water pipes on the bottom, the actual ownership does not lie with the city. “ There isn’t a clear cut answer,” said Diane Chester, a water expert with the city. “ It is confusing, but basically the city feels that the lake bottom belongs to the Crown and in some cases the Province has control.”

In Ontario the province says it has ownership of the lakes and rivers. However, the Federal Government, under the Canadian Shipping Act, lays claim to all International Waterways including the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. The Shipping Act is one of the oldest Acts in Canada and supersedes any provincial ownership’s claim. However, the McGuinty Government, in early 2006 passed a Heritage Act giving the province jurisdiction over 4 shipwrecks (and the lakebed they lie on) including Lake Superior’s Edmund Fitzgerald and Lake Erie’s Hamilton and Scourge.

“This is a very murky area of law right now, with different interpretations in different states and provinces,” said Dave Knight, program manager with the Michigan based Great Lakes Commission. “It is our opinion, however, that jurisdiction of submerged bottomland in Lake Ontario off Toronto most likely rests with the Province of Ontario.”

That may be, but, many Federal Agencies feel that they would have a say. “ The Fisheries Act, specifically section 35 (1) would come into play,” explained Colleen O’Mara, a Burlington based Communications Officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“ That section is called HADD – Harmful Alteration and Destruction of Fish Habitats, and a builder would have to prove that construction would not harm fish stocks and spawning beds.”

An environmental impact hearing would have to be held and either level of government could be involved. Environment Canada is unsure if it has jurisdiction over Lake Ontario’s lake bottom and when contacted by the Star a spokesman opined that the issue really belonged in the Foreign Affairs Department’s court!

If during construction of a continuum an American shipwreck was found, there could also be ownership claims from south of the border. In recent years both the United States Navy and private salvaging companies have laid claims to Great Lakes shipwrecks found on the Canadian side of the border.

Government officials at all levels agree that lakebed ownership is as clear as the mud that covers it.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Arizona Dreaming kick-starts the Canadian West Coast Aluminum House Boating Industry

Two years ago I wrote two stories about houseboating in Arizona. One of the stories was travel related and ran in the Toronto Sun and a few other Sun Media papers. Another story, about the business of building House Boats, ran in Boating Industry Canada. that story has now been posted on Boating Industry Canada's website. www.boatingindustry.ca/news/news.asp?ArticleID=523

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Italian boaters want to float product in Canadian market

Boating Business ran a business feature in July 2007. The story was difficult to write because the people that I wanted to talk to were a continent away. The story began at a press conference at the Toronto Boat Show in February. It was a well attended conference since they were serving Italian wine and cheese. I got there after both were gone ... and most of the people I wanted to interview. In May I visited Italy and saw a number of Italian boat yards, came back to Canada and with the help of Kim Graham and associates, got in touch, via email and phone, with the people who makes things float in Italy. Boating Business has not posted the story. They did edit some of what I wrote, so, what follows is slightly different from what you will see if you buy a copy of the magazine (available at leading bookstores in Canada). As well, this Blog doesn't lend itself to magazine style layout for pictures and graphic images.

Italian Trade Commission Romin’ Canada to increase business and establish boating business partnerships

By Stephen Weir

When the Italian Trade Commission launched a boating sales mission at the 2007 Toronto International Boat Show, it was done in true Italian style: wine, cheese, and a firm belief that all roads (even those on the water) lead to Rome.

Since then Paolo Ponti, the Italian Trade Commissioner for Canada, has met with industry leaders highlighting the latest boating products, technology and design out of his country. As well, a Canadian contingent traveled to Ravenna, Italy in March to take part in an international trade fair and to expand the relationship between Italian and Canadian boating companies.

The Trade Commission’s tri-part strategy is to key in on two significant areas of potential growth – yachts and components, as well as maintaining its ongoing powerboat export business. There is room for gowth -- latest Statistics Canada data show that Italian boating imports to Canada in 2005 were a modest $2.62 million Cdn.

The Italians firmly believe that there are opportunities to bring components into Canada because our stronger currency seems to have forced local components manufacturers to become more efficient, and to look increasingly at placing orders from the larger, more establish European producers. Ponti’s office identified to Boating Business two Canadian firms ; Quebec’s Vredband Import Inc and British Columbia’s Ocean Rigging & Hydraulics who are now carrying Italian components.
“Italy was the largest recognized European importer into Canada of motorboats in 2005, with a 0.5% share of the market ” said Ponti. On the sales side of the sails and motor yachts sector, “increasingly, Canadian yacht purchasers are looking for style and quality in their boat purchases. European, and especially Italian, style is increasingly sought after by sophisticated Canadians. Italian aesthetics are currently “hot” in yachting – The Canadian market is currently particularly interested in Italian-style yachts.”
“While Canadian yacht manufacturing has weakened over the past few years, Canadian consumer demand for yachts has remained healthy, growing at an estimated annual rate of 3-5% in the 2003-2006 period,” continued Ponti. “European boats in general are considered to be very well appointed, but are generally purchased completely finished. We want to tell people that there is now opportunity to do some customization on North American products.”

Probably because the country is surrounded on three sides by water (8,400 kms of coastline) the Italian boat building industry is a vital part of that country’s economy. The value of Italian production of pleasure boats for the year 2005 was approximately 2.5 billion Euro, an increase of 9% over 2005. The UCINA (Italian National Boating Association) is expecting to receive sales figures for 2006 at the end of the month and projects similar results. In short, the Italian boating industry contributes $2.8 billion Euro to the Italian GNP and directly employees 18,000.

“One of the largest challenge facing most Italian companies in this market may be the perceived difficulty in servicing product without a direct market presence here in Canada,“ said the trade commissioner. To address this problem the Italian government is working with firms to create a footprint in Canada or to make strong marketing arrangements with established Canadian firms.

It is ironic that in the eyes of the Canadian consumer the best known Italian name in boating is the Donzi -- an American boat line developed by the late great US racer Donald Joel Aronow. The Italians hope that their marketing efforts will soon make names like Azimut Benetti and Comitti Yacht SRL household terms at marinas and boat yards across Canada.

Azimut Benetti Boats (represented in Canada by Nautique International, Quebec) has been hailed by a n number of boating magazines as the “Number One” producer of 80’ plus yachts and mega yachts. Just ask your favourite Mediterranean billionaire, Azimut Yachts is known for its traditional craftsmanship, while Benetti is credited with the introduction of the concept of “motor yachts”.

This July the Port Sandfield Marina in Ontario’s wealthy Muskoka Cottage district will take delivery of its first Comitti Yacht. Port Sandfield Marina is expecting strong interest in the lake specific motor launches (5.5 m to 10.5 m).

Some of North America’s richest families have property in the Muskoka's and there are cottagers who have a perchance for wooden boats. The Committi, designed in the 50’s by Mario Comitti for use on Lake of Como in northern Italy, is just that classic freshwater craft. The 2007 version still features a triple planked mahogany hulls making it the last Italian boat yard to hand lay its wooden motorboats.

From wooden boats to super yachts, Italy produces a wide range of products that could make inroads in the Canadian market. This diversity, according to Ponti, is needed to compete in Canada. “Canada has one of the highest per capita boat ownership levels in the world, third only to Norway and Finland. Boat ownership is diverse, and varies by region, but high levels of boat ownership provide a good base market for upward mobility and potential growth.”

top left. Cutting the cheese at the boat show in Toronto January 2007
top middle. Paolo Ponti, the Italian Trade Commissioner for Canada
top right. The new Azimut 47 Flybridge premiered worldwide at Genoa 2006 International Boat Show won the prestigious award ''Boat of the Year''!!

Side Bar

Who is selling the Italian boats in Canada?

• Comitti Yacht SRL
Jonathan Blair/Nada Stancheson
Port Sandfield Marina
1327 Peninsula Rd.(#7)
Port Sandfield, ON P0B 1J0

• Nautique International Inc Azimut and Benetti
Avenue Du Port
1000 de la Commune Est
Vieux Port de Montreal
Montreal, Quebec
H2L 5C1

Condo models suite/sweet on new buyers by stephen weir

Rick Eglinton photoMy most recent article appeared in the Toronto Star last Saturday. The story was about how condo developers depend on scale models of their proposed buildings to motivate buyers. The story talks about how most new condo owners purchase their units after seeing a model for only a few minutes and then wait years for the building to actually be built.