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Lanehouse on Bartlett: an Interview With Adam Ochshorn

Last week Curbed featured Curated Properties' Lanehouse on Bartlett, the project that will convert a century-old Bloordale industrial building—originally a yarn factory, then a boiler plant—into contemporary townhouses. Adam Ochshorn and Gary Eisen, the principals of Curated Properties, are the team behind successsful boutique developments like the award-winning Annex Loft Houses and the Edition/Richmond project. They've been in the industry since the late '80s, focusing mainly on infill projects; Curbed spoke with Adam Ochshorn about the shift to adaptive reuse with Lanehouse.

How did you find out about the the 100-year-old building?

Adam Ochshorn: The boiler plant was brought to our attention by a real estate agent; it was presented as a knockdown with potential for a three-storey infill development. Instead, we saw it as a candidate for adaptive reuse. We saw the opportunity to integrate new homes into the community while respecting a piece of Toronto's heritage.

Did neighbourhood homeowners resist having the block's density increase by 16 residences? How did the city Planning department help (or hinder) you in repurposing the site?

Community planning meetings were held with the public and the local Councillor [Ana Bailão]. The majority of neighbours are supportive of the project, seeing it as a positive change from heavy industrial use. The building was a working boiler plant right up until the sale in August, when the plant moved location—and no jobs were lost with the move. The city did want to limit foot traffic through the laneway, and having the lobby entrance on Bartlett takes care of that. Our original plan called for more units, but the City asked us to reduce the number. They also requested we reduce the height of the building, and that we build greater privacy between the units' rooftop terraces, and we agreed to those too.

Your previous projects have been either new construction or restoration of private homes. Is this the first time you've reworked an industrial site? What kind of challenges did you run into—soil cleanup, infrastructure etc?

We had never worked with this kind of site, but there were fewer challenges than you might expect. The boiler factory was already fully serviced, and a full analysis of the site was done and they found no need for soil remediation. Extending the existing infrastructure to Bartlett Street wasn't an issue because of the L-shape of the building; the lobby/main building sits directly on Bartlett, and carries the infrastructure through to the laneway. That said, the building itself needed a significant amount of work; the windows were made of corrugated plastic and all needed replacing, for example. The steel and brickwork are being reconstituted right now.

Are there other sites like this in the city that you see having this kind of potential? What neighbourhoods of Toronto have this type of low-profile industrial building that could be transformed into innovative residential space?

We're busy with other projects these days, and haven't looked around much for similar sites. It's something I would like to see take off in the city—this sort of revival of heritage spaces that no longer suit their original purpose in an urban landscape, but have potential to evolve into something new. Why have heavy industry in this kind of area?

Lastly, do you have any favourite Toronto buildings, either old or new? Do you think there's a particular Toronto architectural style?

That's interesting. I've never been asked that before! Let me think ... the Gardiner Ceramic Museum. The Flatiron Building. Those are good buildings.

I don't think Toronto necessarily has its own style; you can see it in the film industry, how Toronto is used for New York because in a lot of ways Toronto style followed New York style. I do see Toronto as coming into its own architecturally, though; not only is more international focus being directed at us, but the public is better-informed about architecture and design. I see more and more people coming to our designers with informed opinions, and ideas from magazines that they want to see incorporated into their own homes. People have much stronger opinions now, and know the right questions to ask.

· Transforming an Old Yarn Factory Into a Cool Laneway Project [Curbed Toronto]
· Rare Laneway Housing Proposed [Ana Bailão]
· Finding Opportunity in Vacant Structures [AdaptiveReuse.info]
· Edition/Richmond [UrbanToronto]