In Conversation With: Alan Hirschfield
Design is fragile, but it is the most important element in a liveable community, says the driving force behind The Uplands in Courtice
By: Gale Beeby
Every once in a while, you might meet someone who makes so much sense you wonder how it is possible that most people don’t think that way.
Alan Hirschfield is one of those people.
I had the distinct privilege of sharing lunch with him at the Richmond Hill Golf Club earlier this year, where our wide-ranging conversation touched on so many topics that we barely got a chance to discuss his newest project, The Uplands in Courtice. So, we had to talk a second time and — strictly — only about The Uplands.
Hirschfield, who was born in South Africa and has lived in many countries around the world — including nine years in the United States — was an architect and founder of UD+D Incorporated, an urban design and development consulting firm.
He is also the driving force behind High Street Courtice Inc., the development company behind The Uplands, which will include many housing forms — including townhomes and condos — all designed with a modern flair.
High Street has embraced a design forward approach and is the development manager for two $100 million projects, in addition to a 110-acre lowrise and midrise development in Wellington.
Hirschfield’s experience in the architectural world has enlightened him to one hard fact: Canadians have always had a more enlightened and modern take on the world. However, he notes, Canadians have not been offered much more than the same old, same old, and when they see something unique, they embrace it.
Q: How do you envision the design of homes evolving?
A: Local people are driving design, and that’s the way it should be. Canadians haven’t being offered much, just more of the same. When I lived in the U.S., I thought that Americans were trying to do history cartoon style. You know, overly done Tudor and Victorian-era homes that just seemed, well, cartoonish. Trying to make the dead look good.
Unfortunately, that sensibility exists here as well, but when Canadians were offered something different, they sucked it up and bought. People are now seeing a greater variety of housing styles
— an explosion of available and timeless designs.
There seems to be a historical gap in architecture here. There were the great old architects and then a gap, but now I see some great young architects doing really interesting things and the public is totally accepting.
There is a really big change in the kind of people who are doing development, a changing of the guard, challenging the previous order. That’s a really good thing.
As a company, we don’t want to do work we don’t like ourselves. It takes five to 10 years to get approvals, so we need to love what we do. There is a new philosophy to development, the City Beautiful Movement.
As Toronto was built out, in order to make it work the lots got smaller and individual house styles became unworkable on those tight lots — it became a cacophony. But people still need — and want — individuality.
There was also a need for different kinds of housing, traditionally in different areas of the city. But not anymore. Families don’t want to be separated by housing form. People are now buying a townhouse or house for themselves and a condo for their kids, which they will eventually retire to. And they want them all together, not in different areas. No longer is the house in the suburbs and the condo in the urban core.
As a philosophy, I think showing how condos and townhomes work together on one site is critical, tying them together by design.
Q: How modern do you think you can go and still be acceptable by the buying public?
A: Our designs are modern but still look like a house with pitched roofs. How modern can we do it in a suburban environment? Quite modern, but comfortably modern. And we’re doing modern designs with traditional materials because we have hard weather conditions here, so it just makes sense to use tried and true materials. The materials we use are chosen not only because of their great looks, but for longevity as well. It can still look good and hold up to the outside elements. Design is fragile, but it is the most important element in a liveable community.
Q: How has building design changed over the years?
A: First, designers are responding to what they see and hear. The buyers know what’s available and they’re not willing to take cookie-cutter anymore. Good designers do good work and good construction. For instance, we’re using fiberglass front doors. They insulate better and look good longer.
We’re also responding to new public knowledge of design, energy-efficient homebuilding techniques and warranty requirements.
Q: Tell me more about The Uplands.
A: It’s a master-planned community of townhomes and condos overlooking the Farewell Creek Valley with absolutely stunning views and direct access to the trail system in the valley. The townhomes are spacious and feature smart home designs with contemporary exteriors of brick, stone and stucco and the condo building will mirror those design elements.
The architecture is being handled by Naylor Architect Inc. and Turner Fleisher Architects Inc., with landscaping by Strybos Barron King and interiors by Johnson Chou Inc.
It’s a great team and I’m thrilled to be working with them.
Q: What’s on the drawing board?
A: Something I’m really very excited about, but can’t talk about in detail just yet, but it will be a $500 million master-planned community in Etobicoke that will include townhouses, multi-tower highrises, a seniors residence, retail and office space.