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Kirkor Architects and Planners


Designing buildable, mixed-use urban developments that take advantage of public transportation, urban intensification and design innovation is the specialty of Kirkor Architects and Planners. The company has designed many such developments in the Greater Toronto Area and currently is working on a number of major projects in the town of Markham, Ontario, that will increase density.

“We’re developing over 10 million square feet in Markham,” declares Clifford Korman, senior cofounding partner, architect and urban planner. “Markham has moved from a small town to an urban center with zones in it where the growth is dynamic, and suburban areas are becoming urbanized in specific nodes, corridors and centres.”

The town of Markham is trying to control suburban sprawl and densify its growth by converting underutilized shopping centres and other greyfield sites that were built before the areas around them became urban and densified into mixed-use.

“Redeveloping these suburban shopping centres into mixed-use, urban densified sites is good, smart growth planning,” Korman declares. “Put the density, put the growth where you have public transportation, subways coming or light rail transit, and where you have existing [municipal] services.”

Such growth eliminates the necessity of building infrastructure on greenfield sites. “These are the smart growth principles Markham is following to handle its growth,” Korman points out. “We’re not going into the greenfields – we’re protecting our forests and farming areas.”

Transitions Tricky

When planning such massive developments, all sorts of considerations come into play, such as fitting the increased density into the context of a neighborhood; transitioning vertically to taller buildings and setting them back to allow the positioning of sun and shadow; and how to position underground parking to allow full accessibility by the public.

The Uptown Markham project that Kirkor Architects has planned will consist of 5.5 million square feet of mixed-use structures with living, working, entertainment and lifestyle space across 55 acres of land, 20 of which will be public parks. As part of the project, new north/south public streets will connect to main roads, public parks and valley lands. Approximately 20 buildings are part of the development. Six- to eight-storey buildings with podiums will be constructed, as well.

Additional 12- to 18-storey towers will delineate the south edge of the valley lands as New York’s Fifth Avenue does Central Park. This achieves the density with minimized impacts to the sightlines and sun shadows. The towers will feature three- to six-storey green roof podiums.

For the World on Yonge project, a total of 1.8 million square feet will include 1,300 residential units along with a large shopping center, offices and hotels. Korman estimates the total cost of the project to be at or close to nearly $500 million. Construction of the project started in February 2011 and is expected to be completed by February 2013.

A Small-town Feel

This development is designed to accommodate the population of a small town and is organized similarly, Korman remarks. Landscaping would be funded by the maintenance fees residents would pay to the condominium association, and the parks would be owned by the city in the form of public easements.

The buildings will be constructed of poured concrete with precast concrete, metal panels and curtain wall glazing on the exteriors. Two corner buildings are curvilinear to create a backdrop. “The podium is more precast concrete and solid, and as you go up, the material changes into glass and becomes lighter,” Korman explains.

All buildings Kirkor Architects design in Markham are a minimum of LEED Silver. The Uptown Markham project is aiming for LEED Gold with green roofs on the podiums, stormwater retention provisions and energy-efficient appliances. The buildings also will have systems to redistribute heat from sunlight on the west sides of the buildings to the cooler east sides.

Multiple Developments

Kirkor Architects is working on six to eight projects in Markham, Korman says. Others include Lee Markham, Markham North, the Upper Village and the Shops on Steeles. “We are one of the largest architectural and planning firms doing work in Markham,” Korman points out.

Markham North is an urban intensification project that is next to the light rail station. The plans for the Lee Markham project include a proposed six to eight-storey heritage French Provincial building. The Shops on Steeles involves tearing down an old mall shopping center around a functioning 200,000 square-foot Sears store with 100 parking spaces on the roof and building an urban lifestyle center while it stays open.

“It was an excellent sustainable structure to be reused,” Korman notes. The center will be remarketed and offices, banking and medical facilities added to it along with community meeting space on the ground floor. The mixed use of the site such as construction of a number of residential towers totalling 1,250 units is being introduced in phases. Specific plans for some of the other developments will be finalized as the construction of their phases nears.

Planning Worldwide

Kirkor Architects and Planners works throughout Canada and is licensed to work in 15 of the United States including Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and New York. The firm has done projects in Shanghai; Beijing; Johannesburg; the Turks and Caicos Islands; and Belize.

The firm was founded in 1990 by Korman and his firm’s partner Steven Kirshenblatt and has a reputation for providing clear and concise documentation at either end of the development process. “We’re becoming experts in developing mixed use sites because they are larger in scale and usually last seven to 12 years,” Korman points out. “It gives us longevity in two to four phases of construction over a longer period of time.”

Urban design planning for projects in the core of municipalities is a strength of Kirkor Architects, Korman maintains. “We’re getting away from reliance on the car with lower and lower parking ratios, less than one car per unit,” he points out. “In some core areas, it is down to 0.3 cars per unit.”

The firm is organized into specialties with partners supervising senior associates. “It’s worked very well that way because you don’t have clashes of ego,” Korman points out. Most positions are filled by promotion from within. Korman and Kirshenblatt have been working together since 1980, when they formed Kirshenblatt & Korman Archi­tects, a predecessor of Kirkor Architects and Planners.

The Kirkor team has grown in depth over the past 10 years with the expansion of the partnership level to include Carlos Antunes, Brent Whitby, Simon Ko and David Butterworth. “Each of these key employees has stepped successfully into their partnership roles and has become a major contributor to Kirkor’s success,” Korman stresses.