Is This The Best We Can Do?

On April 30th, Council passed an ambitious and inspiring vision for the future of our downtown —  the Downtown Secondary Plan. It calls for preservation of the heritage core, enhanced public realm and parkland, commercial and residential intensification, and demands a high degree of urban design for new buildings.  It calls for us to “build beautifully”.

The vision is a great one. Now we have to prove we can deliver….

Next week — Monday, May 7th — will be the first test. An application for an 18-storey residential condominium development for 148-150 Macdonell is coming to Council for a decision. Here is what it looks like (images from City of Guelph development file):

View from Allan's Bridge

View from John Galt Park

What do you think?   Is this an example of building beautifully?

Each successive generation leaves its mark on the city through its architecture.  The Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians left a recognizable presence in our downtown.   A great city is built in layers — it includes well-maintained heritage buildings left in place, and leaves room for the current generation to add its own layer on undeveloped sites.  This is what we are trying to do with the Downtown Secondary Plan.

So the question is — is this the signature architecture we want to leave behind?   What does this building say about our community?   Does it live up to the Downtown Plan?  Is it massively inspiring?   Will you drive by and point it out as a fine example of the greatness of our city?  Is this the best we can do?

Would love to hear your thoughts…


13 thoughts on “Is This The Best We Can Do?

  1. Dear Councillor Piper,

    Thank you for opening up this discussion and for encouraging the public to comment.

    As you may know, I have been doing a photographic project called Guelph: 100 Days in the Mirror, investigating the city’s development from many angles (You can visit the link: In doing this, I have physically visited and walked through almost all of the current intensification development areas in Guelph. I wish to bring the significant effort I have dedicated to this research and the experience I have achieved through this project, forward in responding to your call for input.

    To answer your questions particularly, I would like to say that I do not regard the images above from the City of Guelph development file, as examples of an architecture that is beautiful, unique, or dynamic. It presents a building that is designed only to serve a function, but not an aesthetic.

    It appears to offer units, but not homes.

    It is a cookie-cutter, not a community builder.

    I wish to say that it is my firm belief that this is not the signature Guelph wishes to leave as its legacy. It is not unique, interesting, appealing, friendly, inviting, or artistic. Nor is this building indicative of our vibrant and dynamic community that contains a rich and present history at its core.

    In fact, this architecture is cold, homogenous, and completely impersonal – the opposite of everything our city stands for. It is visually and symbolically antagonistic to the defined pillars of our community.

    We love Guelph because it is social. This is not social. It is silence.

    We love Guelph because it is artistic. This is not artistry. It is calculation.

    We love Guelph because it is innovative. This is not creative. It is a formula.

    We love Guelph because it “makes a difference”. This building would make no difference… except to misrepresent our Downtown Secondary Plan.

    And our community.


    Aidan Ware

  2. I hope it isn’t the best we can do. Guelph deserves so much better, and this is achievable. A building of this height might fit further away from the core. But not here. It dwarfs all that is good about downtown. It has all the makings of a serious mistake we will come to regret but will be unable to reverse. In this situation, you are better to err on the side of caution.

  3. I hope it isn’t the best we can do. Guelph deserves so much better, and we can do better. A building of this height might fit further away from the core. But not here. It dwarfs all that is good about downtown. It has all the makings of a serious mistake we will come to regret but will be unable to reverse. In this situation, you are better to err on the side of caution.

  4. I have lived in Guelph for 4 years now, drawn by the unique community, and the beauty of the city – especially it’s downtown core, with it’s blend of historic architecture. There are really only two major eyesores downtown (although there are many lesser ones) – the Cooperators Building and the apartment tower at Quebec and Norfolk. Both of these stick out like sore thumbs as you descend into the city centre from the university district… and they are both HALF the height of the new monstrosities that have just been given the okay.
    Over the last 4 years I have heard Guelph lauded for it’s vision, for it’s beauty, for it’s community awareness. There have been many examples where it has been held up as a top ranking city to live in… and none of those cite it’s lack of towering edifices as a bad thing. Quite the contrary, it is it’s low to medium rise buildings that keep its sense of human scale.
    Why the city council has seen fit to ignore the existing building height restrictions and okay this project is beyond me. It is short sighted to say the least, looking for a quick fix of tax revenues and paving the way to Guelph echoing Milton and Oakville as “just another” sprawling dense Commuter City rather than the gem that it has, for the most part, been recognized for until now.
    In years to come this moment will be looked back upon as a turning point in Guelphs history – and not one in a good direction.

    • As a clarification, this project is not yet approved – Council is making this crucial decision next Monday, May 7th. Your input and perspective is very much valued and appreciated. LP

  5. Love the bottom part of the building, but it may be a tad too high for its surroundings. We definitely need more people and places to live downtown. I find the crazy destructive student vibe downtown very soul destroying. I know that there are many people looking for medium sized dwellings (1500 sq ft) that they could move downtown and still be able to walk into town. I love a mix of modern and old architecture just like the city hall.

  6. I’m ambivalent. The city is not going to build housing, nor should it. So we end up with what developers are willing to build. Add to that the pressures that the province has placed on the city as a result of “Places to Grow”. And the province in turn is responding to the problems that Canada’s immigration policy have put onto Southern Ontario. Add to that, I suppose, the problems that population growth has placed on our federal government.

    I personally think that large condominium developments are a bad investment. What happens when the real estate market tanks and these large building find that they have significant vacancy rates? How are existing owners going to maintain the buildings?

    Having said that, I can see the buildings being bought out by large corporations and being turned into apartment buildings. This would be a catastrophe for the people who own the individual units, who will probably take a big loss. But it could eventually create lower cost housing stock for working class people. It might be a good thing to eventually have lots of cheap apartments in down-town Guelph.

    Ultimately, we are going to have to learn to live in higher density groupings, which is going to force us to make different assumptions about what is and is not a “good place to live”. I don’t see any more flexibility in their thinking from the “activists” who oppose things like this 18 story proposal than from the developers who just want to make a buck (and to Hell with everyone else.)

    One thing would make me a lot happier about the city, however. I would like to see some “mainstreeting” happening outside of downtown. When was the last time something like a downtown core was built—-with commercial development on the first floor and a few layers of apartments over top? All I see are malls, strip and otherwise. What does the city have to do to get developers to build these things? A few developers tortured to death on cable tv? Nothing short of that seems to work.

  7. I should note, that for all that I have been following this debate on-line for weeks now, this blog-link is the first time I’ve seen images of the proposed building. That is in no way, shape, or form an example of “building beautifully”, or, as Aidan Ware stated, a “state of the art architectural landmark”. It’s just plain ugly. The lower levls begins to add some interest but the massive garage doors dwarf the facade, and the rest looks like 70s and 80s re-hash.

    There so many examples of interesting and forward thinking architecture out there in the world, especially in low to medium height designs – think Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam – even aspects of Toronto and Vancouver (I’m thinking the Distillery District and Whychwood Barns in Toronto, and Arthur Ericksons iconic Waterfall Building in Van). Why anyone would see this drab and unimaginative blight on the skyline as a move forward is beyond me.

    There are indeed people who would love to live in the downtown core, and yes, it would be a great benefit to the city for it to wrestle the “student vibe” to a manageable level, but this can be done with style, and care, not to mention at least a nod to LEEDS considerations and green architecture. There is no need to stack them like bland sardine cans. A development that echoes the fantastic blend of historic and contemporary that is embodied in the new city hall (all 4 floors of it!) or to a lesser extent, in the imminent Market Commons condos (Waterloo and Gordon across from the farmers market) would be a welcome addition to the city, both in this location, and in the many that are awaiting their fate at the hands of greedy and shortsighted developers.

    I can only hope that next Monday, the city councilors decide what they would like to be remembered for by future generations.

  8. I agree that the proposed building is not an imaginative or inspiring building. It is not worthy of the Guelph. We are looking at a developer with a lack of aesthetic sense and an eye on money.

    I would like to inject, however, a sense of hope and imagination to what might come to pass. If this building is built, let’s not wallow in defeat and bitterness. In every ugly building, real people live, love, hope, and strive to make a home.

    I suggest, if this building becomes real, that the artistic, impassioned, and compassionate people Guelph come together and begin to embrace the people that live there. Move to make the surroundings of the building spaces that are inspiring and perhaps contrary to the structure itself. Roll out the welcome wagon. Include new residents in the lively, lovely community Guelph is known for. Make something ugly into something beautiful. Past losses and anger do nothing helpful.

    A building is just a shell. The people within make it come alive. Every ugly building can contain beautiful people. Never forget that.

  9. Dear Councillor,

    I really don’t know how to start,
    Let me introduce myself, I immigrated to this country in 1967 by my free choice lived in downtown Toronto for a while, there wasn’t too many high rise building than, the sky was open to everyone to see freely the blue and the stars at night.

    I am a graduate engineer, worked in engineering for 18 years,(my own company), I am a professional artist too graduated from Western in 1973, have given so many exhibitions in Canada, Europe and middle East. Traveled excessively to middle and western Europe, studied closely their cities and their building structures (down town areas) by looking at them TIME stops……. takes you back to 18 and 19 century ………… I always admired, its their national identity.

    Three years ago I moved to Guelph with my family, it was a choice because of the people’s behavior, their respect and high affinity to each other since than I am in love with this city and every on who lives in it, I feel it and I am not mistaken there is a certain positive blessing from our Divine Cosmic Energy Source. People’s behavior is the reflection of the city itself.

    Why should we imitate the Big American cities of 1930s and 40s. If we really would like to put our stamp representing our century, why don’t we start with the 21 century building designs. Architect like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Ron Arad and others are doing great jobs, we don’t want to have a city full of high rise building in our downtown area, we have so much empty lands around us.

    Do we really like to be like Toronto’s down area , too many high rise buildings, no place to breath, good for business but NO SOUL at all.

    I know it is a very hard decision to make, either we have to follow blindfolded the other cities around us or we have to have our own VISION for our 21 century GUELPH.

    With all my respect
    Kevork George Kassabian

  10. This has all the markings of a serious mistake.
    I always think these facades look somewhat pasted on to improve the look of an otherwise generic block building… Is this building supposed to include “affordable” housing? …mixed use…Something that Guelph really needs. It would be great if we could combine what we actually need with something that has solid character. “Stylish” trends date rapidly… we have historic Scottish style masonry in this city. Maybe something that incorporates that, simple, but well built with design that takes it’s cue from the natural materials. Can combine contemporary with historic craft… classic, clean, incorporating greenery, much needed. Let’s make homes. I’m absolutely sure we can do much better than this and do it on budget.Thanks for asking for our opinions.
    Leslie Hayes

  11. I have no issue with a building of this size being built in this location, BUT it can’t be this generic monstrosity. Our beautiful city deserves better. We have (and had) many great examples in our downtown that could be used to develop an inspired new design language for projects large and small. The new Gummer Building is a good example. We need to look back as we look forward, and we need to make sure that the people designing this building understand what is expected of them.

    • I totally agree with Dave. Look at the style (not the height, just the look of them) of the condos on Cardigan Street across from the Guelph Youth Music Centre – that’s what we need (read “stone”, not “concrete”). If you take the GO or VIA train to Toronto there is a very nice looking building across from, I believe it is, the Mount Pleasant station. Unfortunately, Google Maps hasn’t kept up with the building, so I can’t find a picture online, but I believe it is on Commuter Drive.
      And do we really need 18 stories? About 12 has got to be enough, and while we are at it, it should have a green roof and/or solar panels.

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