Kirkor Architects and Planners: Housing Distinctive Ideas

Fall 2010 - Urban living has become quite the viable option in Canada, and with that influx comes the demand for increased housing options. Finding new space in a crowded city, however, can be a challenge. Kirkor Architects and Planners, a firm located in Toronto, Ontario, has the abilities and resources to tackle this issue. “We specialize in redeveloping low-rise, grey-field and under-utilized properties by transforming them into mixed-use, high rise residential developments with a greatly increased number of dwelling units,” says Steven Kirshenblatt, the firm’s senior partner.

Kirshenblatt and his business partner Clifford Korman started the company in 1981. Now, 29 years later, Kirkor has grown significantly in various regards. “We now have five partners,” Kirshenblatt explains. “We’ve introduced a junior partner level three years ago to keep the firm fresh, while giving it longevity.” Kirkor’s geographical footprint has experienced growth, as well, and the firm works on projects throughout Canada and the United States. Kirkor’s capabilities have also evolved, integrating the ability to tackle commercial projects ranging from shopping centers to industrial facilities.

“We do a lot of work of master plan redevelopment design work in the Greater Toronto area, as well as work in the city of Toronto, taking low rise or under-utilized sites and redeveloping them into new urban sustainable communities,” says Kirshenblatt. Those regions, which are located in Toronto, Ontario, have experienced significant growth due in part to Kirkor’s ability to help the local municipalities meet the Province’s growth strategies.

Growing and Blending

Kirkor is currently working in the Avonshire neighborhood of North York, overseeing the redevelopment of three storey walk-up rental apartment neighbourhood into new condominium towers. This project is a joint venture between Toronto-based real estate development companies Tridel and K&G Group. “Three residential towers are currently under construction,” explains Kirshenblatt. “The first tower to be occupied is a rental apartment building that replaces the rental units that have been demolished. The other two are residential condos. There are another two towers proposed and there’s also a group of townhouse buildings. The townhouses are used as a buffer and transition to the existing single-family neighbours. The overall development will be about 1,100 units.”

The site was once owned solely by K&G Group, who built the development in the early ’50s. The area included several low-rise, three-story, walk-up apartment buildings with approximately 330 units. “K&G Group retained us to look at redevelopment of the overall land for higher density,” says Kirshenblatt. “Because of provincial and city policies, the 330 units needed to be preserved, so the plan was to build one new rental high-rise and free up the land for additional high-rise condos, and low-rise townhouse development. We took the project through official plan amendment, zoning bylaw amendment and site plan approval. K&G then partnered with Tridel to develop, market and construct buildings.”

Unique challenges often go hand-in-hand with projects of this size and scope. “The challenge on this property is getting through the municipal approval process,” Kirshenblatt adds. “The overall uses and densities of the land were really not that much of an issue, but the city was very critical on urban design issues that had to be incorporated into the project.” The completed site plan will extend the high-density neighborhood west of the original Avonshire community. “It creates pleasant streetscapes and a wonderful urban feel. There is a new park being created in our development to enhance the feeling of community,” says Kirshenblatt.

The project was originally going to be considered for the new neighborhood certification program as set by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). In the end, however, the designers complied with the city of Toronto’s green building design practices instead of LEED’s. Avonshire’s rental apartment building is expected to be completed in the summer of 2010.

The Work of the Future

Kirkor uses a unique marketing technique to attract business from across North America (its designs have made it as south as Nevada and Texas). “My partner, Cliff Korman, has actually done a number of presentations and speaking engagements to the development industry across the continent,” Kirshenblatt explains. “That led to a lot of exciting business, especially in the U.S., when the market was stronger. It is a great way to find new prospective clients – at tradeshows and speaking arrangements. He also writes for some publications.”

Korman’s proactive marketing efforts have led to easily identifiable results. One of Kirkor’s most interesting projects, in Kirshenblatt’s opinion, was the NY Towers Community. “The firm was involved with the Daniels Corporation and has created a series of high-rise, mixed-use (but predominantly residential) buildings with a variety of built forms and unusual skyline features. The last component is the building we call the Arc that took a very difficult site and created a very interesting cruise ship form that has received great response from the community,” says Kirshenblatt. The Community has six towers and 1,200 condominiums. In 2002, this site won the Community of the Year Award of the Greater Toronto Home Builder Awards.

The greater Toronto area real estate market has remained strong. Kirkor is well positioned to contribute its expertise to the development market. Kirkor has no plans to scale back nor particularly to ramp up. “We may grow a little, but the partners are very involved with each project. To keep that hands-on approach, we don’t want to get too big,” Kirshenblatt explains.

Kirshenblatt foresees the company’s work becoming more popular in the coming years as its reputation grows (the firm even has designs in competition for projects in China). “The nature of the work we’re doing is the future. Smart growth and sustainable design is really creating a new world for high density residential urban development,” he says. “Our firm is well-positioned. We are also looking to take our expertise to other communities.” With the success the company has had throughout Canada, Kirkor will continue to grow and quickly make a name for itself wherever it may plant its flag.