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Historic buildings in Toronto have a much better chance at survival these days than, say, the 1960’s, when we lost many of our beautiful buildings (e.g. Chorley Park).

The green building movement has helped immensely. Retrofitting an old structure with thick brick walls and large windows that let in daylight and actually open now is proving (in most instances) to be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than tearing it down to build something shiny and new.

Some of these buildings we know well, e.g. those in the Distillery district, but dozens more are “hidden” to most of us unless we have a reason to venture inside their doors.

This week I attended an International Women’s Day event at 1135 Dundas Street East, a non-descript brick building built in 1939. It’s at the corner of Logan and Dundas in South Riverdale and to be fair, the building’s not attractive from the outside. But then, the area around it is also pretty bleak. And when you try to find the front door, you wonder why anyone created a solid brick wall right to the sidewalk. But as the story goes, the building actually continues on the north side of the street. When Dundas Street was widened in the 1940s, the good road makers at the time just cut the place in two and added a retaining wall with a door!

Step inside, however, and you wonder why we can’t all work in such an inviting environment. Originally home of the Canadian Starch Company, the structure still has its factory elements—high ceilings, wooden beams and floors, massive supporting posts and large windows with metal mullions. Now retrofitted for the 21st century, it’s bright, airy, beautiful, fun, rich in contrasts of new and old. Shiny ductwork weaves about overhead and glass the walls on interior offices let in loads of natural light. There’s funky chandeliers, natural wood, bright colours and great open space for meeting and conversation.

It was all done by our host, X-Design, a Canadian company that happens to be an interior design firm. X-Design recently moved in and retrofitted the space to 100% sustainable standards, worthy of LEED certification (although have not chosen that route).  Founded and grown by two entrepreneurs (husband and wife team Greg and Susan Quinn), X-Design now boasts of clients around the world. Environmentally-aware design has become an essential client requirement for all their projects—you only need to visit 1135 Dundas to understand why.

Anyone who’s ever thought of demolishing an old building or has ideas about what kind of office space they might want to work in, should visit this kind of space. And Toronto is gradually filling up with such wonders.

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