It seems like in every major North America city these days the mid-rise is becoming the most popular built-form for infill condos in established communities. In Calgary, once you get out of the City Centre (17th Ave SW to the Bow River, from Stampede Park to 14th St. SW) the mid-rise is the dominant condo type.
What is a mid-rise?
Well there are a multitude of definitions out there but the most common is a five to 11 storey building. The reason for five is until recently most building codes allowed wood frame buildings to be a maximum of four storeys, above that it had to be concrete. It was convenient to make the break between low-rise and mid-rise at four storeys the same as the transition from wood to concrete.
I am not sure why the division between mid-rise and high-rise is at 11-storeys. My theory is mid-rise buildings are often marketed as being human scale; meaning humans walking along the street don’t feel dwarfed by them as they do with highrises, but I don’t see what is the magic in 11-storeys vs. 10 or 15 depending on the site.
Benefit of a Mid-rise
Today in Calgary when a mid-rise is proposed in an established community next to a single-family homes, city planners and developers try to convince the neighbours a mid-rise has minimal impact when it comes to shadowing, traffic and parking issues.
Try telling that to the neighbours of the Kensington Legion site redevelopment or the Ezra condos at Riley Park (5th Ave and 13th Street NW) where proposed 8-storey condos were/are being vehemently opposed by the neighbours. In Inglewood, the neighbours protested the AVLI condo that was 2.5 meters above the allowed height. Obviously height matters!
There are many benefits of a mid-rise to the city, developer and the community.
From the city’s perspective a mid-rise creates more density, more quickly i.e. one mid-rise can have two or three times the number of people as a low-rise condo. This creates more immediate utilization of transit, bike lanes, parks etc. It also means the city only has to spend time with one development application instead of three.
From the developers point-of-view a mid-rise means can be develop on sites that are too large for low-rise and two small for high-rise buildings. They also don’t need to sell as many units in advance before construction can start and construction can take half the time as say a 20 or 30 storey high-rise. This means they can take advantage of shorter windows of opportunities in the market.
From the community’s perspective, they get increased density in one building rather than three or four, which means the roads and sidewalk disruption time is reduced. Also the increased density can mean better bus service, improvements to parks, school enrollment, new restaurants, cafes, medical services and increased the viability of existing small businesses.
Mid-rise condos are ideal for transit-oriented development next to Calgary’s LRT station. The twin 10-storey Renaissance Towers at North Hill Mall, next to Lions Park are a good example of creating good density in an established community. The same could be said for 9-storey The Groves of University at the Dalhousie Station.
One of the things I love about mid-rise buildings is that they offer more opportunities for creative designs than low-rise and high-rise condos, which seem to all look the same i.e. variations on a rectangle.
In My Opinion
I don’t know what is so magical about four-storeys condos, but many Calgarians seem to think is the absolute maximum height for any condos near single-family homes.
Rather than focusing on the density and height of new infill condos, I think we should be focusing on the quality of the design of the building and the overall impact it will have on the entire community and city - not just the immediate neighbours.
Currently in Calgary, there are many mid-rise condos recently completed, under construction or nearing final approval. In Inglewood, AVLI a 7-storey condo is starting construction across the street from the funky Art Atlantic building. Bridgeland has two mid-rises; Bridgeland Crossing (8-storeys) is nearing completion and Radius (7-storeys) it getting ready for construction to start.
In Hillhurst, Battisella recently completed Pixel (perhaps one of the coolest entrances for a condo I have ever seen) and Lido is currently under construction. Across the street from Lido, is Bucci’s Kensington condo that comes in at 6-storeys and then there is Ezra (named Ezra Hounsfield Riley who once owned all of the land that is today Hillhurst/Sunnyside) at Riley Park (5th Ave and 13th St SW) which will be 8-storeys.
In West Hillhurst, Truman has submitted a proposal to the City to rezone the huge Kensington Legion site for a 4-storey office and 8-storey condo (reduced from 10-storeys due to neighbours’ protest) that is very contemporary design that could be a new benchmark for urban living Calgary’s northwest quadrant. (Note: since this blog was written the Kensington Legion site redevelopment has been approved).
Note: This blog was commissioned by Source Media for January Condo Living Magazine.