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August 29, 2014
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Douglas Coupland's red canoe at CityPlace (Source: SavelBlogs.com).
"Entryway" by Carl Tacon, One St. Thomas
Condominiums (Source: toronto.ca).

Two thousand twelve promises to augur well for Toronto's living spaces. New developments are rising everywhere you look. A deserted parking lot and the corner plaza where 7-Eleven used to be are among the many slices of city land quickly being converted into suavely-named high-rise towers, complete with glass balconies and expensive pieces of art.

The artworks have become landmarks in their own right, such as Douglas Coupland's colossal red canoe at CityPlace. Some realtors, like Lorena Romano, believe that the inclusion of art may increase real estate value, make buildings more attractive to purchasers and create a sense of community. By the same token, city policy requires that all new developments include art, and at the rate at which these glossy condominiums are being erected, one can't help but wonder if the inclusion of art is reduced to just another item on the condo developer's checklist. Get permit for glass balconies; hire high-profile artist to design lobby area; then, sell, sell, sell.

...it seems developers have discovered a golden formula to building condos - one that harnesses the branding power of art.

With the establishment of the Toronto Public Art Commission and the Advisory Committee in the early 1990's, public art was first integrated into Toronto's official city plans. The two groups act in concert with developers, artists and investors to secure a greater public art presence in and around the city's office buildings, condominiums, parks and other complexes. In August 2010, the City of Toronto released its official guidelines to the Percent for Public Art Program (PFPAP). Presently, there are approximately 140 condo buildings under construction in the city (almost three times as many as New York, according to Buyingblock.com) and all of them have art - because the city says so, in writing. In fact, the PFPAP guidelines stipulate that a minimum of one per cent of a development's gross construction costs must be allocated to art - either on-site, off-site or both.

Approaches to the inclusion of art vary with each project, and so do the resulting benefits to the metropolis. One of those benefits is forging a sense of community; Section 3.1.4. of the guidelines states: "Public art has broad appeal and can contribute to the identity and character of a place by telling a story about the site's history. It creates a landmark and celebrates the cultural diversity and creativity of our communities." When Romano was asked if a particular building embodied this type of community, she pointed to the Art Condominiums by Triangle West Development Inc., which has curated a boutique gallery in the condo's lobby depicting artifacts that speak to the history of the site and surrounding neighbourhood. "The developer also has a blog dedicated to sharing noteworthy artworks and news about local art galleries with the community. I believe this approach really attempts to get an awareness of what the community is all about," says Romano, "and, in turn, helps shape the building's role in the larger community."

"Bride" installation by Jose Parlas,
CityPlace (Source: savelblogs.com).

Toronto-based artist Erin Rothstein believes that condo art elevates the city's collective cultural awareness. "Toronto is primed for gallery-hopping escapades, but it is also ideal for art enthusiasts who seek to enjoy contemporary culture within the confines of their own homes. Therefore, when a condo acknowledges the contemporary art scene, it allows its inhabitants to enter a realm of culture that would otherwise have remained behind gallery doors." But a gallery space and a condo lobby are two, very different things. Erin believes the The Annex Lofts gets it almost right with its curated collection of edgy art, giving off the vibe that one is indeed living in a chic contemporary gallery somewhere on Queen West.

Condo spaces can give off certain vibes via their art. These vibes become particularly interesting when they are deliberately manufactured by a development company looking to sell hundreds of units, encapsulating the essence of whatever branding schema they've chosen to run with. It's not so much a marketing gimmick as it is a sound strategy proffered by the city in their PFPAP guidelines: "Public art presents an opportunity to increase the profile of a development. Public art can become the image used for marketing and attracting interest to a development. Public art can also be the visual marker or branding for a building or space (...) enhanced aesthetics of the development leading to an improved public image for the developer." 

"Double Vision" by Shayne Dark,
X Condos (Source: savelblogs.com).

What started off a few decades ago as an attempt by the city to beautify public spaces has now become a tool with which big-budget condo developments forge their cover-of-Vogue image. With the sheer multitude of buildings being erected around the city, it seems developers have discovered a golden formula to building condos - one that harnesses the branding power of art.

These art-filled condominiums are very attractive to home buyers looking to stake their 600 sq. ft. claim to cosmopolitan downtown living. Homebuyers are also investing in condominiums that - not taking into account a possible drop in the current inflation of Canadian housing prices - will hold a higher resale value precisely because of the allure created by the developer's original vision. Owning a small fraction of the art in a building or walking by it everyday is part of the allure. Whether or not the current oversupply of artful living is a manufactured one, it may very well be the case that it is exactly what Torontonians demand.

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