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For architect Richard Wengle, great design starts at street level

Among his numerous projects in Toronto are Maison 77 Clarendon and 89 Avenue Yorkville, buildings with impeccable detail and vision

Toronto architect Richard Wengle will soon have a front-row seat as construction begins on 89 Avenue, the 20-storey luxury condo tower, one of his many projects around the city.

That’s going to be an “incredible feeling,” Wengle says. The offices of Richard Wengle Architect Inc. are directly across the street, at 102 Avenue Rd. There’s not just 89 Avenue, but five other projects he and his team worked on, all going up within a one-kilometre diameter.

“For me it’s a dream come true,” he says. “People seek us out, and it’s the nicest compliment. I never take that for granted.”

Wengle says the moment he sat down with Frank Mazzotta, president of Armour Heights Development, and the developer behind 89 Avenue Yorkville, his vision for it became clear. When you ask Wengle about his process, going back 37 years, he’ll tell you it comes from his experiences in life. Wengle likes to travel, always looking at historic and modern buildings in some of the world’s capitals, cataloguing ideas. In the case of 89 Avenue, and with encouragement from Mazzotta, Wengle sought out inspiration from classical, pre-war buildings in New York City.

“I am always prepping like that, for opportunities,” he says. When a project like 89 Avenue comes along, or Maison 77 Clarendon, the five-storey, 16-residence boutique condo project from Menkes Developments Ltd. to be built in the prestigious South Forest Hill neighbourhood, those ideas and inspirations that have been catalogued in his brain come pouring out.

“When it comes my way, it doesn’t take me long [to get a vision for a project],” he says. “I get to it really quickly. I just need to deploy these ideas.”

Good design starts on the street, Wengle says.

“We always develop from the ground up,” he says. “We start the process by coming into the building. What does the person coming into the building see first? Then that creates the palette for me, the look and feel, and it flows from there.

We always develop from the ground up. … I want everything on the street, at eye level, to be flawlessly executed.

— Richard Wengle, Architect

“What I find in Toronto is nobody is really paying attention to detailing at street level,” he says. “They create these massive towers, with no regard for the public realm. I am the antithesis of that. I want everything on the street, at eye level, to be flawlessly executed. I put effort into the detailing and materiality on the ground floor. We have to impress and set the tone with all the materials in the lobby … a palette of rich materials.”

Toronto interior designer Brian Gluckstein says Wengle is one of the only architects that truly understands classical architecture. The 89 Avenue building, just 44 feet wide, will be an illustration of that.

“Frank said from Day 1 – I want to do this properly, and he said it’s your palette, so go for it. He let me run with it. And we really haven’t changed that much from the first iteration,” Wengle says. He designed a home for Mazzotta, so their relationship grew from that.

At Maison 77 Clarendon, Wengle says the objective was more a juxtaposition of architectural styles. He lives in the neighbourhood and, after speaking with Alan Menkes, president of high-rise residential at Menkes, he knew that what was required was a building that melded seamlessly with the houses in South Forest Hill, with its quiet, tree-lined streets, ravines and walking trails. As Wengle says, they couldn’t just plunk down a contemporary structure, something too jarring. Pre-war New York architecture – the high ceilings, the arched doorways, the decorative moldings and hardwood floors – was again an inspiration for the building, with the main entrance off Clarendon Avenue.

Wengle says a more exact inspiration was a classical-style bank building at 940 Madison Ave. in New York, now an Apple store. Maison 77 Clarendon will be marked by its limestone exterior, large windows, lots of glass, the bronze colour, the mullion windows and mansard roof.

There’s prominence and respect for the proportionality of the neighbourhood. It doesn’t look like a massive building, Wengle adds, its breaks down more into components that relates more to street scale.

It’s not a condo building – these are more residences, a collection of homes put together in a small building. Suite sizes range from 3,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet. It’s for people looking to “right-size” from their larger single-family homes, and they want the white glove services and amenities that condo living offers.

“There was some concern about a new building being built on site,” he says. “So the concept was to recreate a sense of a building that had some history there, a classic building that was not too traditional, but still had some historic bones to it. There’s an elegance to it. It’s classic, tailored, formal but not fussy.”

That sense of street-level grandeur Wengle talks about will be on display in the two-storey lobby, an adjacent guest lounge and resident’s lounge, with marble concierge design and custom artwork throughout.

The building will be situated at the corner of Clarendon Avenue and Russell Hill Road, which winds downward into a parkland. Being at the top of a ridge, with stunning city views, gave Wengle and his team the opportunity to balance a more contemporary style at the back of the building – with more glass to capture the views.

“This was a unique opportunity, the difference between the front of the street and the ravine,” he says. Juxtaposing the two styles was a “no-brainer, it just made sense.”

And Maison 77 Clarendon, in the end, really illustrates Wengle’s style, which is, working with many styles.

“Mine is kind of a mélange of different palettes,” he says. “I believe good design is good design. Some people specialize, but I am good with proportion, detailing. For me it doesn’t matter what style it is. For me it’s another dialect in the architectural language.”

Source: theglobeandmail.com