Published in the Toronto Sun September 23rd nd 25th
Putting off that downtown Toronto condo purchase because you suffer from Siderodromophobia (irrational dread of trains)? One project in the St Lawrence Market District will allay that fear: The Market Wharf condominium complex, currently under construction, has installed a steel reinforced concrete barrier wall to stop any runaway Go trains!
Market Wharf is a multi-level condominium tower project at Jarvis and The Esplanade, just south of the back-end of the St Lawrence Market. Plans for the city block include a 34 -storey tower which when built, will abut six busy Go and Via Rail tracks, Lakeshore Blvd and the Gardiner Expressway.
The derailment containment wall – built last fall – protects the south-end tower currently under construction. The side of the building is very, very close to a myriad of tracks used daily by Go, VIA Rail and CN.
“We began work on this back in November 2009 when we began clearing the site,” explains Lou Hack, one of the principals of Bluescape Construction Management, the company overseeing Context Development’s challenging condo project.
“Theoretically a train could hit the wall and you wouldn’t feel it inside the building” said Hack. That is because there are now two walls at the south end of the building. “The outer barrier wall is 24’ tall and 18” thick with a 2” gap between it and the (building’s outer) wall.”
While the building of the crash barrier is an oddity in Toronto (there is no record of a train ever colliding with a condo building in Canada), there are other unique challenges that the builders have dealt with since the project was first launched.
The largest problem? It wasn’t construction related, it was all about the lack of investment money in North America.
|The train barrier under construction|
Market Wharf’s Dream Team – Context Development, architectsAlliance and TACT Design – found that despite strong interest from condo buyers there was scant investment money available for a project of this size. Not in Toronto. Not in Canada. Not in Dubai, Not anywhere in the world.
It was 2008. “No one really knew where the market was going and since the project consisted of a large podium and a tower, we decided to phase the construction and split the building into two condo projects,” explained Craig Taylor, Director of Design and Marketing for the developer, Context.
Two different investment deals were cut to bankroll the construction and, for the most part, two different building teams reported for work.
Phase One is just about complete – it is a seven story podium which will include at ground level a soon to be opened large Shopper’s Drugmart facing St Lawrence Market. Phase Two is now beginning to reaching upwards (continuation of the podium and a 27 storey tower on top of that) and the project is starting to look like one big happy building! Right now you can see that there are two distinct structures but over the next few months exterior bricking will hide the great divide.
There are other quirky things that have caused Architects Alliance’s Peter Clewes and Bluescape Construction to think outside the typical condo box.
Take for instance the question of nearby Lake Ontario. Two hundred years ago, the spot where the Market Wharf now sits was totally underwater. Toronto was a busy lake port and many sailing ships anchored here. The lake is a long way away now, but the property is all reclaimed land.
The water table is so close to the surface that Market Wharf is being built sans basement. The parking garage, typically found underground at most large condo towers, is on floors 3 through 6. From the street you won’t see the cars, there is a ring of small flats (576 to 673 sq ft) on both sides of the building separating the parked cars from the outside world.
Since there is no basement at the Market Wharf, almost 200 caissons - concrete shafts that extend down to the bedrock - have been sunk. These 33ft long concrete beams take the load bearing role of the basement. It is upon these caissons that the condo podium and condo tower are being built.
The first 5 floors are brick and include small condo flats and parking. Sitting on top of the masonry levels is a two-storey horseshoe shaped level of townhouses.
Most of these 2-bedroom townhouses have their backdoors facing out onto Lower Jarvis and Market streets from behind a walkway of glass. The living rooms and master bedrooms look inward to a garden and private patio space that can’t be seen by the outside world.
Along the western side of the building a number of these townhouses angle out over the rest of the building. Driving south on Jarvis you can see how some of the units dangle over the sidewalk below.
At the south-end of the building the townhouses give way to a soon-to-be-built peanut shaped glass walled recreation centre. What little green space there is on this property will be on the rec centre’s green roof and in a small outdoor treed garden that will be constructed beside the recreation centre. There will also be a patio where owners can sun themselves and wave at the harried commuters sardined into the never-ending parade of Rush Hour Go Trains.
The Tower will rise dramatically from the Rec Centre. The Penthouse suites take up the top two floors and will be curving walls of glass, which, if viewed from an airplane will look like a second giant peanut!
For people more rooted to the earth, whether they are walking in the neighbourhood, riding the rails or driving by, the thing that will make this building visually different is the shape of the balconies.
The balconies will not be rectangular; instead they will be a series of undulating in-and-out curves of cut concrete. The curves on one floor don’t match the curves on the floors directly above and below, which should give the building a undulating wavy look.
With two levels of commercial space and a public passage through the building, Market Wharf is designed to interact with the city. The store and other commercial units and much of the podium housing will be ready for occupancy this year. The Tower should be completed the year after that. When the last condo is occupied, there will be about 1,000 people living on the safe side of the steel reinforced runaway train concrete barrier wall!