17/03/10 – Toronto – Analysis

  • Murray


    Hi All,

    I decided to reimagine yesterday’s terraces a la St John’s, Newfoundland.

  • Paul C

    Anecdotally, it is interesting that parking scores so high given the manner in which it is provided, has such a fundamental impact on the overall home.

    BTW, hard to tell if you gentlemen are wearing any green?

  • John Brown


    I noticed that as well. After reviewing the test results, plans, and comments I think that the parking is being scored more for its internal design. Its impact on the rest of the house seemed to be picked up in the organization section. I probably should have mentioned that as an observation.


    Unfortunately, no green…

  • Terri

    John, Could you please put your results charts in a separate link to make them easier to view?

  • Terri

    I managed to isolate your charts by replaying your video.
    Looking at the three highest rated elements after garages, we see living room, kitchen and bathrooms; the outdoor living, bedrooms and laundry rate lower. The plans you used to illustrate the bad entries and organization showed us how the other elements end up with lower ratings. The bedrooms were adversely affected by those hall/circulation issues, the outdoor living space is reached only by one back area (great room) and the laundry is fit in wherever possible, sometimes pretty good and sometimes not.

    Overall it becomes obvious that units are built to sell. Buyers will be reassured to see a garage, a pretty nice living room and kitchen and enough bathrooms to handle a family’s needs. But after that, the elements can be hit and miss. Do they not matter so much? Perhaps they’re just easier to ignore as one tours the open house.

    The one factor that I find most unfavourable is that outdoor living space. When you have everyone’s unit lined up so closely beside one another (sometimes only 20 ft apart), how much privacy do you really have on your deck or patio? It seems the only way around this problem is for wider or staggered units, which uses up valuable land space. Will the rooftop deck become more popular as density increases? With a screening wall, they do allow better privacy than a similar space on the ground.

  • MollyK

    I love your redesigned townhouses from yesterday…bright and airy. I believe they say “Welcome” much better than the heavy, brick facade.
    A comment on today’s video:
    As for the data, it is striking that things get worse with more square footage. Wouldn’t you think having more elbow room would make living easier? But I think townhouses are doomed from the beginning. I suppose they are a necessary evil in high density locations but their design has noticable limitations.
    There is simply no way around the circulation issues when the shape is long and narrow. Then you add a garage and staircase and everything goes up in smoke.
    I was surprised that yesterday I chose the townhouse with less square footage. But it goes back to what John says about not cramming too much on any floor.
    Perhaps having an additional floor would “spread” things out somewhat and allow for better overall organization. But that incurs more building expense…and unfortunately nobody wants to foot the bill for that.
    Although the New York townhouse that BradW posted last week was over the top, I think it’s design followed the notion of more livable spaces based on more floors.
    Overall, maybe it’s not square footage alone that would improve the townhouse design…but rather square footage in the form of additional floors.

  • Sean

    Good analysis.
    The fundamental issues that seem to cause all the problems are that the width of the lots or units have decreased over the years as the area of the residences has increased. The large (>2500 sq.ft.) houses show this in spades, leading to the street-scape being dominated by garages and cars.
    I live in a 25 year old development where the large homes have a reasonable rectangular footprint and there is at least 8-10 ft between the homes, When you go to narrow lots the only answer is to go from 2 to 3 storeys, as you intimated, otherwise you will never solve the problems that come up again and again.

  • MollyK

    I think you’ve hit on an important point…what do potential buyers see when they tour these townhouses? What do buyers remember after an open-house tour…whatever made the most impact on them is what they will remember, wouldn’t you think?
    Would “slowness” be more obvious if the unit was furnished? A furnished bedroom will reveal its functional space…put a double bed in the room and you realize how much space it has (or hasn’t). Put a washer and dryer in the laundry room and suddenly the perception changes. A car in the garage might be quite revealing.
    In fairness to home buyers, especially first-timers, walking through a house can be overwhelming…so much to see, with little time for the spaces to “sink in.” Boy, wouldn’t a SlowHome test be handy for walk-throughs!!! Also, add an additional reference page of minimal room dimensions to determine slowness and you’ve given buyers the tools to make better decisions on their biggest purchase ever.

  • Jim X

    John and Matt

    I have been lurking on the site but not contributing. (Working on other projects vs feeding an internet addiction, which unfortunately does not make money.)
    I have two kudos.

    I appreciate John’s work on combing the data and going back to look at individual floor plans. Today’s Toronto Analysis of townhouses was extremely interesting because it shows how one move (increasing the size) poses more problems (rooms with viewless windows, circulation problems and pan-handled bedrooms) all because the townhouse has been made longer.
    Designing becomes a bit like a chess game where the first few moves can lead to a win or into more difficulties.

    Which leads to my second comment. One of the most valuable parts of the site is John’s explanation of how he goes about a project. After Matthew has listed all the issues he wants solved and hands out a demolition plan everyone goes a solves the issues. Except for me. I get stuck on the first few moves. John explains his first move and his reasons for the moves after that, which shows how an architect thinks and how to make the right opening moves.

    My favourite McLuhan quotation: “I don’t want opinion, I want insight.”
    theslowhome.com is heavy on the insight

    PS When I first went house-hunting (hundreds of years ago) I made floor plans of each house I visited, then looked a my plans and notes each evening and tried to imagine me living in that particular house. Recently I have been touring condos, usually in restored warehouses, and because they are new, they are made to sell quickly. The decorating is usually dark wood, with silver and white lights and accessories. It is all overwhelming and unless one can step back and look at the floor plan I think condo hunters, including me, are led astry by the dazzle.

    Jim X

  • MollyK

    Hello Jim X and welcome,
    You’re not the first one to “lurk” on the site…I think most of us do at first.
    Also, you’re not the only one to get stuck on the first few moves. I’ve done it and spent more time than I should have on a redesign. Don’t despair..you’ll find shortcuts as you do the exercise. I learned to take all my appliances and move them to the floor plan. Then I lay them out without cabinets and sit back. I can move them everywhere and not waste time with cabinets until I see the picture in my mind. I do a similar thing with the furniture…I find it saves time and allows me to “move” the furniture like I do in my real home.
    Your use of floorplans when touring houses is excellent. You’ve got the right idea about imagining “living” in each room of the house. That is such a smart idea. And I agree that interiors can dazzle potential homebuyers and distract them from carefully scrutinizing the livability of the house/condo.
    I look forward to reading more of your comments!

  • Jim X

    Hi Molly K
    Thanks for your comments.
    My comments were a little ambiguous. I’ve contributed to the site before, but have not posted any comments since about mid-January. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of posts on the site and had other demands on my time.

  • MollyK

    Jim X,
    Well, I guess instead of “welcome” it’s more like “glad you’re back.” Don’t let the number of posts get in the way…just jump in and say something anytime! Now I can’t speak for your other demands except to say we won’t hold it against you. Goodness knows I’ve probably neglected alot just to spend time on SlowHome…it’s way more interesting than my everyday job.
    Cheers right back at ya!

  • Carol

    I have enjoyed this weeks approach and Johns explanation as to how the data collected can be very usefully mined. It seems to me that two major “projects” may be emerging for the slow home. One would be a shorter term on, through the slow home test which would involve helping people to analyze their living space whether it is for a new purchase or a remodel in order to make it as slow as possible. The other is a longer term and more difficult one, to influence city planners and developers to create great slow neighbourhoods.

    I agree Mollyk, lets get the the test into the hands of those people touring the show homes. Murray, that photo brought bake fond memories of one of the best vacations ever. Would love to know what the interiors of the houses are like.

  • MollyK

    Don’t you have a real estate license? You know realtors would be great jumping off point for the SlowHome test…kinda like a field study. We might choose a select group who agreed to provide feedback on the test’s usefulness…doesn’t have to be a large group either.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    I was watching your review today and two of the patterns from A Pattern Language came to mind.
    Regarding the entries, what if the Open Stair pattern http://www.jacana.plus.com/pattern/P158.htm was employed? I looked for a precedent image like the one in the book and couldn’t find one quickly. I was thinking of the case where the stairs begin outside and finish inside the building shell.
    As the primary living space is on the second and third floors, there is less of a connection to the outside. This may be an opportunity to employ the Street Windows http://www.jacana.plus.com/pattern/P164.htm This pattern often goes with the Window Place pattern too.

  • John Brown

    Jim X,

    It is good to hear from you again. I am glad that you are still watching the site from time to time. Your observation about design are spot on.

    Thank you for sharing your condo hunting experience. As we are learning from the Project, too many of these places are designed-to-be-sold more than designed to be lived in. Hopefully the Slow Home Test will help identify people identify those situations.

  • John Brown

    Molly K and Carol,

    You touch on the heart and soul of this project. I believe that home buyers are the people who would most benefit from the Slow Home Test. Our “almost published” book (be prepared for an announcement in Friday’s segment) is a guide to using the Test for that very purpose. The Slow Home Project complements that endeavor by demonstrating how many bad house designs there are out there and the need to consider design quality when looking at a house.

    In terms of enacting a “bigger” kind of change, my hope is that when we are finished with the 9 cities, the results of the Slow Home Project will be a formidable tool with which to get peoples attention – both legislators and people in the industry.

  • John Brown

    Jim Argeropoulos,
    Thanks for the link and the reminder to everyone about the precedent of “A Pattern Language”. Common sense goes a long long way in good house design.

  • Mid America Mom

    Matthew I had hopes for seeing green but at least you broke away from black today ;) John thank you for the post. It propels me to comment about a few things I have observed. So below are three things on bedrooms/garages/closets:
    1. Condo and Townhome observations. Main bedroom/closet size. The bedrooms in SINGLE level condos suffer in lower sq footage units(I cannot get into the data today but I bet 1000 and under). It was rare to find the desirable slow 10 by 12 bedroom space (120 sq feet) and the closet would be maybe but not always 5 feet or more. Yes we would find a good size main bedroom but an obstruction would be present like a corner pillar or box. When we get to the LOFTS or two story condos we find larger and more usable space in the main bedroom and the closets maybe getting bigger or walk in (again I cannot get into the data today). Moving on to the next housing type it looks to be a cardinal rule of townhomes to list this in their brochure: “features a large master bedroom with walk-in closet” The size of this walk-in closet differs. From one that should not be called a walk-in to supersized. As for the master bedroom floorspace I am struggling to find a master bedroom that is our ideal footage of 120 (10*12). Clicking through at least a 14 tonight NOT ONE was under 165 sq feet. The slow bedroom usually is one of the secondary bedrooms.
    2.Front garage in Toronto is KING. We rarely found sunken garages for the townhomes (below grade) and I think maybe one for homes? If we did they usually were in a large shared underground parking structure. Rear garages I think we found in maybe three developments be it townhome or home.
    3. Front garages in Toronto are integrated into the front façade. Garages in Toronto do not tend to be the SNOT house look I think you call it John? They tend to have the garage flush with the living area to the side. Or if they do set back the actual living space it is not extremely generous (maybe 8 feet). For achieving a slow home one thing can be said about a snot house- it may lend itself to better circulation then what we see here in Toronto, as that long front nightmare of a hallway usually disappears.
    Past few days on graph paper I have been playing with a 3 story townhome on a 20 foot lot with an attached one or two car garage (ignoring such factors of depth of lot or code issues). I do not envy the designer that strives for good circulation. John you are so correct that a garage hinders the design. Which lead me to think more about the garage. I will post that in my next comment.

    Mid America Mom

  • John Brown

    Mid America Mom.

    Thank you for the articulate and thoughtful observations on the data. It is much appreciated. As I mentioned to Paul C this morning I had not adequately recognized the impact of the design in my analysis.

    I look forward to seeing your townhouse design …. and to what awaits us in the Lone Star State.