Bortolotto featured in Novae Res Urbis

October 23, 2009  

BORTOLOTTO has been featured in NOVAE RES URBIS.  Read the full article.
Toronto’s design review panel has wrapped up its initial pilot stage and staff will soon be proposing to expand the panel to cover other areas of the city. The panel currently considers new buildings proposed for the Etobicoke Centre, Humber Bay Shores, North York Centre, Scarborough Centre, Fort York, St. Lawrence and King-Parliament areas. If the proposed expansion is approved, public projects with a significant visual impact anywhere in the city and significant private projects in the Yonge / Eglinton and King / Spadina areas, as well as the city’s avenues and transit priority routes would be included in the panel’s mandate. The proposal is to be presented to council in the coming weeks. It’s with that anticipated expansion that the Canadian Urban Institute convened several design experts for a discussion entitled “Fostering Design Excellence: Lessons Learned by Toronto’s Design Review Panels.”

Toronto urban design director Robert Freedman provided a history of the city’s panel, which first began reviewing proposed buildings in the summer of 2007. About four years ago the city began considering the concept, examining different models for panels from various cities around the world, including Vancouver, which has had a design review panel for the past 25 years. “There are many, many ways that we can improve design quality,” Freedman said, noting that design review panels are but one option. Freedman told NRU in an interview this week that design review panels are “not meant to be the one magic element that’s suddenly going to make everything phenomenal. It’s really meant as a check.”

HOK senior vice president and design director and chair of Toronto’s design review panel Gordon Stratford stressed that design is intrinsically public and is a vehicle through which the public realm can be improved. “Design is a very public act,” Stratford told the audience. “That’s where this whole open discussion, through design review panels, can make a difference. We really need the very best public realm. Are we there yet? Not in any way, shape or form. The public realm has to work. It’s what people see and what people appreciate.”  However, Tania Bortolotto, Bortolotto Architects director and member of the Waterfront Toronto design review panel, said “design review panels [alone] cannot create… beautiful cities.” “Everyone has to make design excellence a priority,” Bortolotto said. “Until then we will continue to surround ourselves with mediocrity. Everyone wants quality, as fast as possible and at the lowest cost. Those three things don’t work well together.” Bortolotto took aim at Canada’s culture, stating that design is simply not appreciated and taken as seriously as it is in other countries. “In some countries design excellence is embedded in the culture,” she told the audience. “Until we make design excellence a priority we will need design review panels.” “Many of the decision makers are not educated in urban design,” Bortolotto added, stating that better knowledge would help a culture of design excellence prevail.

However, Freedman told NRU that in the past two years Toronto’s design review panel has been offering advice on developments, the city has seen some improvement in building concepts, noting that the physical manifestation of better design may take longer to notice. “What we’ve seen is the tangible results in the drawings, because development takes quite a while to go from concept to built reality,” Freedman said. “Obviously the proof will be when we see the buildings and the landscapes and the streetscapes constructed.”