It’s the details that make the difference. They are often forgotten in big developments where economies of scale take precedence over the finer points of simply building a nice place for residents to live.
One Ottawa-Gatineau area development that has recently got it right is the Hendrick Farm project in Old Chelsea, where high quality finishes and intolerance for builder basic standards has produced well-built, solid houses with the intent to create a tangible sense of community. There’s the suggestion that the St. Charles Market development at the east end of Beechwood Avenue might do the same.
At this stage, St. Charles Market is but a twinkling in the eye of developers ModBox, but plans have been approved and the project is 33 per cent sold since it launched in late May. Of the four available two-storey penthouses, two have already gone, and buyers are looking at combining other units.
Those plans show a sensitive contemporary re-development of the neoclassical former Catholic St. Charles Church. Formerly a hub for the Francophone community, it was designed by Quebec architect Charles Brodeur and built in 1908. The church held its last service in 2010 and was deconsecrated in 2013. It was subsequently bought by ModBox, and has since become a community gathering place, hosting a farmers’ market, food truck rallies, and Shakespeare in the Park. St. Charles is part of a trend that sees churches converted into residences as congregations dwindle.
Now, Linebox Studio, the architectural firm responsible for the much-lauded Shopify offices, has produced a design for 54 apartments and three townhouses. “The long history of the church and the collective memory of the community presents an opportunity and an obligation to think long term and to design an ever-evolving community hub,” says Andrew Reeves of Linebox. “It’s an awkward shaped lot with a heritage designation, but that’s what makes it interesting. We spent a lot of time looking at the sun path and how it travels the site, and how the mass of the new building will interact with the church.”
Unique to the St. Charles project is a ‘menu of objects’ — these include former pews, reclaimed and converted to benches, with one end removed, replaced by a brass bracket at the other. It’s a synergy of the traditional and contemporary, the ecclesiastical and secular.
Another item on the menu is a wooden wall screen, which can be used to divide up the open plan spaces, while still allowing light and air to pass through. It’s a contemporary reference to a Choir Screen, often found in church architecture. A beautiful table extension alludes to the materials of the nearby church and includes a thick slab of wood and a brass detailed leg, while a raised garden planter for the balcony is made from powder coated metal which speaks to the balcony fronts themselves, made from the same metal, but punched with the repeating design of a circular window found in the church bell tower. All are made by local artisans.
The apartment and townhouse development will wrap around the former church, creating a courtyard at the rear of the building. The light-filled church is destined to become a year-round marketplace and restaurant, and the courtyard its outdoor dining space. One wall of the courtyard — dubbed the Starry Night Wall — will be studded with windows of varying sizes, backlit to create the feeling of twinkling stars. There are two other retail spaces in the development, facing the outdoor public plaza in front of the church, which ModBox hopes will be filled by businesses that compliment the restaurant and market already set for the church interior.
Other details include puzzle parking, aka automated valet parking, will reduce pollution in the garage; electric car charging is a necessity, and there’s a separate valet spot for car washing. Each unit boasts its own fresh and filtered air intakes, so there will be no shared germs in this building. The only things shared might be the fitness centre, sauna, yoga studio, movie theatre and the 7-days-a-week concierge, all of which while luxury, feature in other Ottawa condo buildings such as the SoHo developments on Lisgar and Champagne Avenue, and Cathedral Hill on Sparks Street.
ModBox is offering Virtual Reality tours of a pair of properties in the development. Soon, they will be updating the program so that you can even experience your finishes — virtually of course!
The symbol for St. Charles Market is a pair of crossed keys — the international symbol for the concierge industry. It should come as no surprise then, that upon signing, buyers receive a fine bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, the glass emblazoned with a pair of crossed keys. It’s all in the details.
Let’s hope that the St. Charles Market gives a lift to the Beechwood and area community. That’s certainly what Reeves intends. “Our aim is to re-energize, in a non-religious way, this former gathering place. Although I’m not a religious person, I love the accidental interactions that happen in church and we hope that will happen here again, with people raising their families here,” he says.
A fire decimated the heart of this community in 2001, and since then visionary development has been in short supply. While the area is blessed with tenacious entrepreneurs and several excellent restaurants, Beechwood Avenue is a noisy traffic corridor. With its open green space and interesting combination of old and new, St. Charles Market offers an opportunity for something substantially more.
St. Charles Market, Presentation Gallery: 135 Barrette St., Ottawa. 613-301-7782