While Minto works with various external architecture firms, we also have our own internal Architecture Services Department. We spoke to Frank Carenza and Matt Brown about how the department works.
What does the Architectural Services Department do?
MB: We’re involved in acquisition, concept design, design development, working drawings and even a little bit of construction. The bulk of our time is spent on concept design and design development. Suite layout and planning is a big part of what we do. Overall we are responsible for ensuring the quality and integrity of the design in the pre-construction phase. We work with the architects, engineers, interior designers and internal specialists from different teams within Minto, while keeping the customers’ best interest in mind.
It starts with a strong design and program from the architect. We take the basic floor plates and subdivide them to make, for example, a block of one bedrooms suites that achieves the best possible design and efficient use of space. Improvements and modifications to the exterior come as a function of designing the interiors. We consider past projects and look at which suite layouts and design elements were most successful. We use this analysis as a departure point and then we try to develop something even better.
What’s the process once a piece of land is acquired?
FC: It depends. Sometimes we’re dealing with a green piece of land that hasn’t been rezoned so we get involved in the preliminary site design. If there’s already a design for the site, we’ll refine it to meet Minto’s specific needs, especially from a unit mix standpoint (i.e. how many one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms or townhomes).
MB: The acquisitions team works with the architect to develop a concept for what is possible. They determine the number of storeys and suites and designate spaces for the amenities. Then we look at who our customer is likely to be. A lot of that is driven by focus groups and the marketing & sales teams. From there we figure out what that customer is looking for and try to merge their wants & needs with what is possible.
What is it like working with various firms? What are the differences between working for a firm and working for a builder?
FC: Some firms are more technically proficient, some are a little less technical and more design-oriented. Minto’s goal is to provide the best suite layouts for our customers but that might not be number one on the firm’s list. They might have a design in mind that’s more focused on aesthetics and it is our job to work with the firm to create a plan that is beautiful while meeting our business needs and the needs of our customers.
MB: Both Frank and I came from firms. At a firm you’re working for a client and with a developer you are the client. The decision-making process changes. With a firm, as much as you have the client’s interests in mind, you’re thinking of the design in a different way. Working for a builder, you’re thinking about design but you’re also taking the rest of the team into account and thinking more about cost, execution, sales, timelines and marketability. You think more about how the building will last over time and how the customer is going to use it. It goes beyond creating something impressive & beautiful.
How do you incorporate new green technology into your designs?
MB: At Minto we have a dedicated green team. At all but the largest firms, there’s no dedicated green resource so all of the design professionals are responsible for it. It can be tricky because there’s a lot of research, testing and prototyping that goes into new green features. Our Minto green team is devoted to doing this research and testing and recommending the best possible products for our developments. The architecture department then works with the green team to make sure that suggested green elements fit cohesively with the look and design of the building.
If the green team sources low flow toilets, for example, we have to ensure that they are aesthetically pleasing and fit with the design of the suites. Similarly, the integration of passive solar design and technology can have a huge impact on the aesthetics of the building. Ultimately, these elements must be incorporated into the design in a way that functions as intended while aesthetically contributing to the overall composition.
FC: Our M&E and green teams are more specifically involved with green technology and how it works in the building. Matt and I collaborate with these teams as we design with those green technologies in mind.
At what point in a project is your job done?
MB: Our jobs are more or less done once a project is under construction. Ninety per cent of what we do is during pre-construction.
FC: But we still get involved somewhat during the construction process and up to the time of first occupancy. There are times during the construction process when design solutions are required in order to solve an unforeseen problem. Matt and I come in and use our experience to solve these issues as quickly and cost effectively as possible.
MB: Also, At minto775 King West, we’re planning the master care office. We designed one of the last unsold suites to accommodate a team of eight to use as an office for meeting with purchasers, doing pre-delivery inspections and as an on-site resource for customers once they move in.
What are some recent architecture trends you’ve been seeing and how are they applied to Minto projects?
MB: The biggest trends I’m seeing right now are in material usage. One is window wall or curtain wall as a primary cladding system. Ten or fifteen years ago you would only see all glass facades on commercial office buildings. Customers like it, and it’s cost-effective. Another is dark masonry like you see on Toronto’s opera house. Minto30Roe and Minto 88 both have ebony masonry as an accent cladding material.
FC: The interesting thing in the Toronto market is that it has recently become much more highly competitive with a lot more players in the condo industry. As a result, we are always looking for new and innovative ways of differentiating ourselves in the market. Minto focuses a lot on green features. Although we see it as a necessity, building green has become very trendy. Another major trend has been in reaction to how the cost of land in the city has affected suite sizes. We’re always trying to come up with better solutions for smaller spaces. It can lead to some really innovative thinking. Kitchens and bathrooms are always a focus. These are the rooms people look at when comparing one builder to another. That’s where they gauge value so we put a lot of energy into making those spaces great.
What are your all time favourite pieces of architecture?
MB: The Roman Forum. Being there was overwhelming and exciting. The idea that these structures exist from that time in a modern city is incredible. Same with the temples in Egypt. Abu Simbil and Hatshepsut are awe inspiring. The environment, materials, construction methodology and craftsmanship are simply unbelievable. I was just there in the spring. I also love the Milwaukee Art Museum by Santiago Calatrava and the Oslo Opera House by Tarald Lundevall for Snøhetta.
FC: One of my favourite buildings is Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was designed in 1935 and it’s probably one of the most famous examples of the integration of a building with its landscape. I’m also amazed by the large cathedrals in Europe simply because of how difficult they must have been to build. Like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, for example. There are also some really interesting examples of architecture in Dubai. A lot of them are technical marvels and really intriguing designs both inside and out. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is a pretty remarkable piece of architecture.
What are your favourite places in Toronto to go for inspiration?
MB: High Park, Trinity Bellwoods Park and Toronto Island. I love that you can be removed from the city but still be in it.
FC: For me one of the nicest spaces in Toronto is the Allen Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place by Santiago Calatrava. It was originally an outdoor space and the historic bank facades were maintained. It’s a fantastically intricate design with its archways and steelwork. The Toronto Island is a favourite spot for me as well. In my career I’ve primarily dealt with high rise developments so I love looking back at the skyline. Before I came to Minto I worked on one of the tallest condos ever built in Toronto at the time. Looking back at the city from the Island gives you ideas about different ways of creating great architecture.