This year’s Best New Building category went to The Rooms. It’s not surprising, given that The Rooms is probably one of the most interesting and creatively designed new buildings in our city, and it really stands out as having architectural merit. Problem is though, The Rooms isn’t all that new. It’s been open to the public for nearly seven years now. But, to be fair, there aren’t a lot of new architecturally designed buildings to choose from when it comes to picking a favourite.
If you want to get a good, overall view of new developments in St. John’s, you could check out skyscraperpage.com. They have a pretty good database of facts and statistics for St. John’s buildings on their “St. John’s project thread” page, and a nice collection of elevations of local buildings. The site’s contributors are generally neutral when it comes to opinions about architecture, and there isn’t a lot of editorial commenting on the buildings listed here, but I couldn’t help but notice the caption of one particular new proposal described as “design wise… one of the best current residential proposals in St. John’s so far.” This caught my attention.
According to them, the best new building going up in St. John’s is Bennett House, a new rental apartment building intended for development near Rutledge Manor in Pleasantville. It’s owned by Killam Properties out of Halifax and the apartment is being designed by Studio Works International (who have an office in Halifax).
The first glimpse we get of it reveals an ‘L’ shape plan, extruded up four storeys. It has a concrete and steel structure, with large square windows, and its facade is embellished with coloured blocks and small balconies with what looks like glass balusters. The average one-bedroom unit will be 750 square feet, and include six appliances. The building will have amenities for the residents, like a multi-purpose lounge, a movie theatre, and underground parking. It’ll be 107,500 square feet, and will house 71 units. It’s the first phase of an expected three-phase development to create 210 units in the area.
Whether or not this is the best new proposal in terms of style, and design is definitely up for debate, but what is welcome about this new proposal is the fact that these are rental units.
Finally, someone has paid attention to the fact that we have had a record low in rental unit vacancy rates for the past three years, and that trend is only expected to continue. We haven’t seen construction of any new rental units in more than 15 years. In the CMHC Housing stats recently released for 2011, we’re shown that most rental units are in buildings built before 1940, and the vacancy rate for St. John’s core city area is even lower than the larger metropolitan area average.
It remains to be seen what it will be to rent these units, but, regardless, the existence of this many new spaces will benefit the renting community by relieving the extremely high demand in the market. The design itself is probably attractive to some because of its freedom from the usual trappings of traditional architecture, but either way, it’s high time for some variety in style and types of residential developments we build here. And this one seems like a step in the right direction.