“We think very hard about the role of each tall building on the skyline,” he says. “That’s really important. Is every building supposed to be an exuberant top or should some be more conservative? Not every building can be a landmark.”

Parakh has noticed some common characteristics among the most successful global skylines: “Very often, there is a series of buildings, and then one landmark that’s different, and then a natural feature.” San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay. Hong Kong has Two International Financial Centre, Victoria Harbour and The Peak in the background. Rio de Janeiro is instantly recognizable for its statue of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Is every building supposed to be an exuberant top or should some be more conservative?
James Parakh, City of Toronto Planning Division

Toronto’s official plan identifies centres in which growth will be concentrated, streets on which the tallest buildings should be located, and sets viewing corridors to protect landmarks such as the dome of the Rogers Centre stadium. It’s designed to preserve the integrity of the skyline as the city develops, but the way buildings integrate into the city at ground level is an equal focus for Parakh: “You can’t ignore how these buildings meet the street. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the scale of the individual in relationship with the tall building.” Buildings must fit within their context and transition down to lower scaled buildings and open space. Wind-tunnel testing is mandated on all projects. “Parks and historic landmarks are very much part of our style, and even though they are dwarfed by tall buildings, there has to be some balance. Thinking about one without the other is not making a great city.”

Toronto’s first super-tall project has just been approved, the Mirvish+Gehry proposal for twin residential towers, at 82 and 92 storeys. “It’s going to play an important role on the skyline, but approval was based on preserving heritage and getting adequate separation distances, adequate light and privacy.”

James Parakh is also chair of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat urban design committee, which is working on a publication about the spaces surrounding tall buildings, due out in 2016.

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