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Skål! The Great Danish Invasion of Toronto’s Architecture

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Toronto, by many standards, has burst onto the world stage as a global city. Often cited as one of the most livable cities on the globe, Toronto’s success is evident in its economic prosperity, diversity, and cultural institutions. And in the world of architecture, the success of a global city is often reflected by who designs its buildings; you know you’ve made it when the international starchitects are in town.

Toronto had a glimpse of celebrity during its coming-of-age in the postwar era. Following Finnish architect Viljo Revell’s striking City Hall, the likes of international superstars Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and I.M. Pei graced the skyline with their iconic TD and CIBC towers. Things quieted down through the latter part of the 20th century, but since the mid-2000s, Toronto’s international architecture scene is booming. Many of the profession’s big names have arrived here: Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster, Snøhetta, and Jeanne Gang, to name a few.

Danish Architecture, TorontoPhoto of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, image courtesy of Snøhetta.

Within the contemporary global scene, one country in particular has produced an impressive roster of internationally-renowned architecture firms over the past decade: the tiny Scandinavian country of Denmark. Known as the one of the happiest countries on earth, home of smørrebrød and pastries galore, Denmark’s population hovers around 5.8 million people, yet it is leading the design world in architecture, urbanism, and landscape design.

The Danish style can often be described as having a striking yet humble simplicity. The focus tends to be on a strong, well-defined form and a simple material palette. Clean lines, textured surfaces, crisp details, and a single broad concept that is carried through the building inside and out, start to finish. The result is a strong idea that is easily understood, a visually-stimulating appearance either through its stark minimalism or its busy repetition, and a well-constructed building that is pleasing to the eye. Jørn Utzon, the great Danish Modernist best known for the Sydney Opera House, brought Danish architecture to the international stage, and a roster of contemporary architecture firms are now building on that reputation.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of KING Toronto, image courtesy of Westbank and Allied.

Luckily for us, the Danes have arrived in Toronto, and they bring with them their brand of architecture that has certainly made an impact on the local development scene. Below we profile four Danish firms and their Toronto projects, and how their influence is changing the architecture scene throughout the city.

3XN

Founded in Aarhus, Denmark in 1986, 3XN – named after its three founding partners, all whose last name is Nielsen – has built a reputation of providing an innovative spin on rather ordinary programs. They are known as game-changers in educational and institutional buildings, redefining how buildings can influence learning and well-being, while also producing atypical housing developments with a human focus. In 2007, the firm established a new innovation unit of their company called GXN, which focuses on research and experimentation with new materials and technologies in architecture. The company mantra emphasizes that architecture shapes behaviour.

3XN Architects, TorontoRendering of the Olympic House IOC Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, image courtesy of 3XN Architects.

In Toronto, 3XN has four projects underway, each of them residential developments of varying scales. They are already making their mark with Hines and Tridel‘s Bayside community, where they partnered with local firm Kirkor Architects to design the Aquabella and Aqualuna mid-rises, both of which are now under construction. Aquabella is an L-shaped building featuring stepped terraces and a stacked-box aesthetic where splashes of wood add texture and variance to the white and grey facade. The human-scaled terraces and ‘outdoor rooms’ are an attempt to package the advantages of a single-family home into a multi-unit building.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of Aquabella, image courtesy of Hines and Tridel.

With Aqualuna, 3XN took the stepped terrace form and added a whole lot of flair to it. Inspired by its prominent waterfront location, the wave-like balconies and bronzed aluminum cladding evoke a myriad of nautical themes and are sure to create a landmark anchoring the Bayside community. Aqualuna takes a fairly simple building typology and transforms it with two small formal gestures – the stepped ‘peaks’ and the undulating balconies – to create something unique. 

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of Aqualuna, image courtesy of Hines and Tridel.

Two other larger projects are in the early stages of design. 3XN has again partnered with Hines and Kirkor for a development at 64-86 Bathurst Street, just south of King. Much of what was tested at Aquabella can be seen repeated here, albeit at a much larger scale.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of 64-86 Bathurst Street, image courtesy of Hines.

But at Church and Wellesley, 3XN is reaching for the sky, with their only tower project in the city being designed alongside Graziani + Corazza Architects and ONE Properties. This development stands out for its extensive pre-application consultations with the community regarding the design of the podium. The attention to detail given to the interaction of the building at street level embodies 3XN’s people-first approach, who hope to create a positive addition to the Church-Wellesley Village that gives back more to the community than it takes.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of Church and Wellesley, image courtesy of ONE Properties.

COBE Architects

Relatively new to the scene, COBE Architects was founded in 2005 by Danish architect Dan Stubbergaard and German architect Vanessa Miriam Carlow. The name derives from the first two letters of the founders’ home towns – Copenhagen and Berlin. In a mere 13 years, COBE have made a name for themselves through high-profile institutional and infrastructural projects, tackling major libraries, museums, train stations, and commercial buildings across Denmark and Europe. Expanding into large-scale master plans has provided a smooth transition into residential development, which has now landed them in Toronto.

Danish Architecture, TorontoPhoto of Krøyers Plads in Copenhagen, Denmark, image courtesy of COBE Architects.

COBE is involved in two developments in Toronto, one of which is ruffling a few feathers with the locals. Scrivener Court, adjacent to Summerhill subway station, is led by Tricon and Diamond Corp with designs from COBE alongside Graziani + Corazza Architects. Much like 3XN’s buildings, Scrivener Court presents a mash-up of a Toronto glass-clad pencil tower with a Danish flair for smaller-scale, brick-clad formalism. The cascading tower appears as a stacked-up pile of increasingly taller rectangular volumes to break up its massing, while deep punched-out windows add shadow and a relatable scale to the facades. While locals take issue with its height and scale, its massing shows a sensitivity to context – a hallmark of COBE’s design approach.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of Scrivener Court, image courtesy of Tricon.

Down in the West Don Lands, Block 8 was recently unveiled to be a collaboration of COBE and architectsAlliance for developers Tricon, Dream, and Kilmer. The trio of buildings appear unique amongst Toronto’s housing stock. The simple formal treatment of the facades – the angled recesses of the podium windows, the curving flairs of the upper towers – and the simple two-material palette represents a clear contextual nod to the scale and image of the neighbouring Distillery District, while creating something that stands out in its own right.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of Block 8 West Don Lands, image courtesy of Tricon, Dream, and Kilmer.

Henning Larsen Architects

The oldest firm on our list, Henning Larsen Architects was founded in Copenhagen in 1959 by the late Henning Larsen. Over the decades, their portfolio has expanded to include everything from master plans to corporate headquarters, embassies, concert halls, residential developments, schools, and government buildings. Recently, they have been garnering international attention alongside their Danish counterparts for their edgy formalism and facade treatments, and have brought their unique approach to two very high-profile projects in Toronto.

Danish Architecture, TorontoPhoto of Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, image courtesy of Henning Larsen Architects.

Henning Larsen burst onto the local scene when they were awarded top prize in the international competition to design the new Etobicoke Civic Centre. Teaming up with Adamson Associates, they presented an intriguing proposal for a collection of angled boxes varying in height and huddled together to frame a central civic plaza. The subtle play with the massing of the building creates several eye-catching moments where corners punch out from the pile, balancing each other to orchestrate an overall harmonious composition. The cladding is uniform throughout, with vertical fins that vary in density and rhythm, placing the emphasis squarely on the form of the building.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of the Etobicoke Civic Centre, image courtesy of CreateTO.

More recently, Henning Larsen has been brought on to the design team for First Gulf‘s East Harbour, the massive redevelopment of the former Unilever soap factory site. Henning Larsen’s role on the project is as an ‘ideas generator’, and their impact has already been felt with some favourable revisions to the master plan. It remains uncertain whether they will have a direct hand in designing any of East Harbour’s buildings, but their tendency for outside-of-the-box formal exercises would be most welcome.

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory Plaza in East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Bjarke Ingels Group

Last but not least, the most famous of the Danish firms is Bjarke Ingels Group, better known as BIG. Founded in 2005 by Bjarke Ingels following a brief partnership as PLOT Architects, the firm and its founder exploded onto the international scene and have since done nothing short of revolutionize the profession in little over a decade. BIG has broken the mould of Danish architecture, abandoning the humility in favour of a loud, expressive form that screams architecture in your face. Their unapologetic diagram-turned-building aesthetic takes simple, logical ideas rooted in context and the human scale and transforms them into unconventional, unusual, yet visually stunning structures. While Danish society praises the power of the collective, BIG stands alone as the loudest and most influential voice in the room.

Danish Architecture, TorontoPhoto of VIA 57 West in New York City, image by Nic Lehoux.

Their creative brand has landed in Toronto, and Westbank and Allied‘s KING Toronto has been grabbing headlines since it was first unveiled. Teaming up with Diamond Schmitt Architects, the stacked mountain on King West takes its influences from Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 in Montreal, while its courtyard form is a response to the local urban context. The undulating form is a first for Toronto and is a distinctly BIG aesthetic, but perhaps even more unique is their proposal to clad the building entirely in glass block. Formally and materially groundbreaking, the Danish influence of a strong formal language combined with a simple textured material palette can still be seen, albeit amplified beyond that of COBE’s subdued contextualism or Henning Larsen’s simplified forms. 

Danish Architecture, TorontoRendering of KING Toronto, image courtesy of Westbank and Allied.

Bolstered by the recent Unzipped exhibition, where Westbank brought BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion to Toronto – the first time any Serpentine Pavilion has travelled outside of London’s Hyde Park – BIG’s KING Toronto looks set to inject a jolt of energy into Toronto’s signature glass box aesthetic.

* * *

The four Danish firms building in Toronto each bring a distinct flavour of design to the local architecture scene. We often criticize ourselves for the repetitiveness of our buildings, but there is something different about the projects shown above. The standard curtain walls and developer-driven layouts have been given the Danish treatment, and the result is decidedly above average. Whether it be a clearer response to context, a unique massing and form, or an innovative material and facade treatment, it is clear that the Danes have arrived, and they’ve brought their architecture with them.

Check back for updates on the projects mentioned above, and be sure to tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum threads, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.



To request more info directly from Aqualuna at Bayside click here

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5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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