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Oakville's Embrace of Modernism

For most of its 200 year history, the town of Oakville has enjoyed a quiet, almost bucolic presence on the shores of Lake Ontario. Architecturally, it’s a town whose architectural styles span that 200-year history, from the Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian mansions at the water’s edge, to mid-century ranch homes in midtown, to the contemporary structures starting to appear across the cityscape.

A big part of Oakville’s appeal is its architectural integrity that is the cohesive look of a street, even when buildings are not similar in design. This commingling in compatible ways adds fresh visual interest to the landscape.

There are plenty of compelling examples of this compatibility in Oakville. Stunning modern architecture -- most notably 44 Belvedere, 76 Dunn, and Willowbrook House – is now an integral part of the downtown streetscape. The same could be said for a spate of modern condos – Rain, OpArt, Nautica, VanDyk’s Wyndham Place and now Wave Condos – which are appearing throughout Oakville.

Interior rendering of Wave Condo Town Homes by Matas Interior rendering of Wave Condo Town Homes by Matas

Interior rendering of Wave Condo Town Homes by Matas

Wave Condos – and Wyndham Place across the street – is close to Oakville’s more traditionally styled streets. Wave Condo Developer John Matas says they’ve been very deliberate in their design approach, “aiming to be compatible to traditional as well as create something more contemporary.”

This notion of neighbourhood context is expanded on by architect Michael Spaziani, who designed Wave. “We’ve drawn on the modern vernacular of other structures in the neighbourhood, particularly St Thomas Aquinas school, and Wyndham Place. Wave has a similar fresh approach with glass and stone, but with a more traditional base, and appropriate setbacks and then glass above. It’s a modern style anchored in the traditions of Oakville.”

Compatibility is a term often used at Oakville’s planning department. As Christina Tizzard, manager of Oakville’s Urban Design Planning Services, explains “a variety of architectural styles are permitted, even within traditional stable residential neighbourhoods. We are not looking for sameness, but compatibility within neighbourhoods. We don’t have authority within the planning act to say it has to be a certain style, or even to dictate building materials. Compatible, then, is defined as what can coexist in its surroundings without clashing and the evaluation criteria includes built form, scale, height massing, architectural character and material.”

In fact, this notion is understood internationally, as evidenced by architecture such as Barcelona’s Bilboa Museum by Frank Gehry, New York’s Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright, Paris’s Pompidou Centre by Renzo Piano, and Toronto’s Crystal by Michael-Lee Chin. All of these modern buildings punctuate areas that are for the most part historic.

Shell Research Centre, Oakville News
Shell Research Centre, Oakville News

But modernist ideas aren’t all that new in Oakville. In 1952, architect Marcel Breuer designed the Torrington manufacturing facility, part of which became a prototype for glazing at the Paris UNESCO building he also designed. In the 1970s, there was the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, and the now demolished Shell Research Centre. In 1980, the Xerox Centre was built, and in 2002 the modern YMCA on Rebecca St.

There was a time when cities would raze their historic buildings in order to pave way for brand new architecture, but a more current urban plan philosophy is one that seeks for old to co-exist with new, what architects refer to as grafting.

“Embracing this style can be seen in the number of modern infill homes that are being built in beautiful established streets in a number of Canadian cities, including Oakville,” says Spaziani. “More glazing, flat roofs, contemporary materials, and interior expansiveness are giving Edwardian and Victorian neighbourhoods a fresh new feel. More and more people find they like this feeling a lot.”

We will continue to see more modern design as popular tastes change, fuelled by increased travel as well as exposure via internet to international design. Increasingly, people are embracing modern architecture not just for the freer lifestyle afforded by its clean interiors, but also for its ability to rejuvenate a city and save it from becoming static and stale.

The glazing on the front of the towns, Spaziani says, has been minimized by incorporating a spandrel to increase a sense of privacy without losing the expansiveness that big windows afford.

Wave Condo Townhomes by Matas Wave Condo Town Homes by Matas

Wave Condo Town Homes by Matas

Contemporary architecture also serves another purpose, says John Matas. It provides the luxury of uncluttered space, and lots of it – each Wave condo is about 2600 sq ft. What’s more, it’s also allowed 1300 sf of outdoor terraces and a roof garden – on a deep 126-foot lot – and at an affordable price.

Matas is no stranger to the townhouse form, however. His company, he says, is responsible for about 80% of the luxury townhome projects in downtown Oakville. Mostly these were traditional in style, but “offered executive style urban living for people who wanted a carefree downtown lifestyle.”

With Wave, Matas decided to break free of the traditional style: “Today’s buyers are leaning more towards modern luxury, and a contemporary building style. Because so many travel the world and stay in boutique hotels and as they become accustomed to the cleaner lines of the style and they feel liberated by it.”

More than just a design statement, though, Wave, OpArt, Nautica, along with other modern Oakville projects -- also offer a prescient glimpse into Oakville’s future.