Smart and Sustainable Design for Canadian Developers

Kirkor Architects and Planners
Written by Jen Hocken

Kirkor Architects and Planners is a Canadian architectural design and planning firm headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. Specializing in responsible development, the company is focused on architectural solutions that blend sustainable design and community integration. Currently, Kirkor is working as the architect of record on two landmark developments: the Bayside masterplan, and Aqualuna at Bayside, in the East Bayview district of downtown Toronto.

The firm has one location in Toronto, a second in Calgary, and roughly 115 employees company-wide. The majority of its projects are in Ontario, but it is currently working to expand its footprint, reaching new markets in the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba through its Calgary office.

Kirkor was founded in 1981 as Kirshenblatt Korman Architects and has since grown to be recognized as a leader in the design of Canada’s urban residential landscape. The firm works closely with clients to help them find design solutions that are not only architecturally relevant and economically viable, but also sustainable and suited to the environmental standards and surrounding communities of the project site.

This is important – throughout Canada, different municipalities have different requirements and incentive programs to encourage sustainable building, quite apart from subtly differing local cultures and expectations.

Kirkor specializes in doing what it takes to thoroughly understand the vision and design needs of a given project, right through to creating the strategies to connect that vision with what the community is looking for.

Meeting the Green Standard
For example, in 2018 the City of Toronto introduced version 3 of its tiered ‘Green Standard’. This is a set of sustainable design guidelines for both public and private sector projects within the city.

The first tier of the standard is a set of requisite conditions that must be adhered to by all builders. Tiers two through four are voluntary guidelines that can make a project eligible for certain financial incentives.

The Green Standard prioritizes improved air quality, reduced energy expenditure and related carbon emissions, reduced storm-water runoff, diverting construction site waste from going to landfills, and decreasing building-related bird collisions.

Understanding this specification is a necessity for any company planning to build in Toronto. Understanding its higher tiers and how they can be integrated into an architectural design can provide a company with substantial benefits. Projects that implement tier two levels of performance may be eligible for a refund on some of the development fees paid to the city, for example.

Kirkor is an expert in Toronto’s Green Standard and in the range of similar standards for other Canadian municipalities. “That’s one of our focuses: really understanding what the requirements are and finding the best way to implement them not only into the building, but into the process of delivering the building as well,” says Partner Carlos Antunes.

The company works with experts in a wide range of disciplines to help determine the best possible way to incorporate each one into the overall process. For example, when working on a project with a geothermal component, Kirkor can help to find the most effective strategy for implementing that technology into the design.

The company is not itself an expert in geothermal systems, rather its expertise is in working closely with the client, the geothermal experts, and the sustainability consultants, and ultimately leveraging its own project experience toward finding a way to integrate the solution into the project.

Seeking the best fit
Kirkor’s greatest expertise is in determining whether a given solution that is being considered by the client is actually the best fit for the project; the firm is proud of its ability to set each project on the correct path.

This approach is heavily focused in the commitment to a working partnership – meaning, partners are deeply engaged in each and every stage of their projects with their clients throughout the entire process. Together with the principals and associates of the firm, Kirkor ensures that its vast project experience remains engaged with the client until the job is completed to full satisfaction. In an effort to execute consistent communication and maintain the historical working knowledge of the project, Kirkor appoints teams that are involved from the earliest concept phase all the way through to delivery.

As the concept evolves into an active project, more Kirkor experts will get involved and stay close to the project throughout. A key differentiator with Kirkor – something that the company’s leadership takes pride in – is that there is always senior staff involved, from start to finish.

“What happens on a lot of projects is that once it gets to a certain stage it will be handed off to the client and the partner will get further and further away from it. At Kirkor we expect a partner to be involved with the client and project every step of the way,” explains Antunes.

People first
In order to be a valuable on-site partner to its clients, the company believes in investing in its own staff. Whether an employee starts their journey with Kirkor as an intern or an architect, the leadership will put them in different roles over the course of a project to help them gain a more comprehensive and well-rounded understanding of what it takes to bring everything together. This enables employees to discover their strengths and improve where they might be falling short.

However they enter the business, Kirkor encourages people to find where they fit best so that they can bring as much value to the company and its clients as possible. This approach has enabled it to build a team of experts who are not only highly skilled, but also happy and motivated to do their best on every project. Beyond just pushing employees to better themselves through experiencing various roles on projects, Kirkor also encourages them to take external courses and additional training to improve their skills.

Kirkor focuses on residential, primarily mid- and high-rise projects, together with complex mixed-use programmes. Kirkor’s experience includes everything from “background” condominiums to large-site, mixed-use master planned communities, wood-framed mid-rise apartments to vertically integrated aging-in-place retirement projects, exciting retail masterplans to the most important community based projects which are transformative to those they touch.

Major projects
The Hines Tridel Bayside masterplan project is a major development in the East Bayfront district of Toronto. Situated on a 13-acre lot along the waterfront 1.5 kilometers from downtown, Bayside is a mixed-use community development that will offer over two million square feet of space for residential, commercial, and office applications.

The project was planned to also include four condominium developments for which Kirkor was hired as architect of record. The company was brought onto the project in the early schematic design phase to work on the concept with international design architects, 3XN and Arquitectonica.

After working with the design architect on the initial concept, Kirkor stayed on throughout the development of the project into construction on all four buildings. The project has been underway for nine years so far.

“We’ve worked very closely with the client and the design architect on what needs to be delivered. We’re the linchpin on how the whole thing comes together. Our role is pretty broad but at the end of the day our responsibility is to deliver a well-crafted building design ready for construction,” says Antunes.

Aqualuna at Bayside is a 17 story, 35,000 square meter mixed-use project within the Bayside development for which Kirkor is the architect of record. Designed by 3XN, this stunning structure will be a visual marker for the East Bayfront district.

In the initial plans, the building was designed to be a rectangular, box-shaped high-rise, but the design architects at 3XN brought a wonderful vision to the project. Inspired by the waterfront view of the waves across Lake Ontario, they designed the overall shape of the structure to have two peaks separated by a valley. This maximizes the waterfront views for each resident, as well as the natural light throughout the property.

Wave-shaped balconies extend from each unit, creating a highly dynamic and non-uniform façade. The structure’s unique silhouette will make it a landmark for the city. As the architect of record, Kirkor will help guide this project through each stage of its development, working closely with all teams.

No compromises
Working primarily in Toronto, Kirkor sits in the midst of a booming economy with constant growth. The demands of the residential sector are tremendous, and this means a great deal of available work for the company. As a result, Kirkor’s main challenge is finding qualified people to meet that demand. This means not only having the right people internally, but also finding contractors with access to enough experienced labour to build effectively and correctly.

Despite these challenges, Kirkor has managed to keep pace with demand and to deliver high quality projects throughout its operating territory. Numerous BILD awards for the quality of its work confirm its success in this regard.

After nearly 40 years in business, Kirkor has acquired a focused expertise and a great deal of project experience that has made it an asset to its clients. Hugely important is its keen understanding and ability to foresee the wide range of challenges that might arise and the subtle economics of project design. This expertise has enabled the company to become an asset to developers on large-scale projects such as the Bayside masterplan and the Aqualuna at Bayside project, among many others.

As a result, the company is highly attuned to working with experts from each discipline and helping them seamlessly play their role in the project. “We don’t partition up each consultancy into providing their own solution,” says Antunes. “We look to understand their solution and how it integrates into the big picture of a residential building.”



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