September 15, 2012
By Phil Charal
LO President

phil charal There has been an incredible increase in condo landscape design, construction and maintenance inquiries over the past few years at our offices in Toronto. I am sure other LO members have experienced the same trend.

Toronto has the highest volume of new high-rise building construction in the world. As of October last year, Toronto had 132 high-rise buildings under construction.

Compare this to Mexico City at 88, New York City at 86 and Chicago at 17. As you can see, Toronto is far out-building the rest of the planet. There are two main causes of this phenomenal growth. One is the large migration to the city that has resulted in a huge demand for housing, and the other is the lack of land to develop within the city core.

Years ago, when I first noticed the vast number of condos, I felt the construction boom would slow down, having reached a saturation point. I questioned whether this incredible growth would be sustainable.

You don’t need to be a real estate expert to notice that the market for condos in Toronto has skyrocketed.

Most high-end condos are extremely well-appointed with gyms, swimming pools, entertainment rooms, breathtaking views, concierges, and most of all spacious terraces. Many condo terraces are beautifully finished and landscaped, with some over 1,000 square feet. It’s hard to believe that some of these high-end terraces are significantly larger than that. Our firm has landscaped a terrace of 1,980 sq. ft. and the inside living space was only 2,600 sq. ft.

Condo owners and developers see the benefit of terraces and balconies. The outdoor portion of the living area is emerging as one of the most important rooms.

There was a period of time when many downtown high-rises would not have a balcony. I remember years ago when balconies were used as storage space. Now condo residents want their outdoor space treated with the same design and construction expertise as the interior space.

For designers and contractors, working with the condo market requires a unique skill. Unlike traditional homes on the ground, something like the choice of furniture is integral to the overall design. It’s especially true when working with small terraces, where once the furniture is chosen, it determines the amount of space on which to landscape.

Plantings are also important, adding warmth to the setting. Containers with large caliper trees are a must on large terraces. Even though you may be 20 or 30 floors up, trees provide a relaxed and enchanting backyard feel.

To achieve that backyard feel, you must move material and equipment up those 20 or 30 floors. This can be a real challenge. Most times it means moving everything manually. Once you arrive at the unit, then great care must be taken to not damage furniture, flooring, etc.

I have some nightmare stories that I could tell about balcony and terrace garden building, but I will refrain from doing so in this forum.

Choice of plants is paramount. Some plants are impossible to keep alive for an extended period of time. That’s the reason we will not guarantee plant material on these projects for more than three months.

Another issue with high-rise projects is the weight of the furniture. It’s important that the furniture not blow away, and it must be able to be left outside during the winter months. Other issues faced on terrace projects include hot tubs, ethanol fireplaces, wood/stone flooring, outdoor televisions and wireless speakers.

I hope they continue building condos in an attractive and sustainable manner for years to come. What a great and welcome benefit to all our industry.
Phil Charal may be reached at