Curvy ‘Marilyn’ stands tall in Mississauga

Curvy ‘Marilyn’ stands tall in Mississauga

MISSISSAUGA People looking for the latest in twisting, gravity-defying architecture mightn’t expect to find it in the suburbs of Toronto.

But the first residents are now moving into the Absolute tower, an extremely curvaceous, 56-storey condominium tower in Mississauga. The skyscraper, called the “Marilyn Monroe” by locals for its voluptuous curves, was the result of an international design competition initiated in 2005 by the tower’s development company, Fernbrook Cityzen.

The buxom Absolute tower – actually, there are two of them – was designed by Chinese architect Ma Yansong, assisted by his partner, Qun Dang. Sales were so brisk in the 428-unit Marilyn that the developers asked the architect to deliver a second, 50-storey highrise with 433 units.

This second highrise also spirals asymmetrically, but not quite enough to steal the limelight from Marilyn.

The buildings were the final two towers to be developed in a five-tower condo complex, called Absolute World, built at Mississauga’s main intersection, across from the Square One shopping centre, one of the largest shopping malls in the Toronto region. The first three towers were of more conventional highrise design.

Ma, a founder of the MAD Architectural Design Studio in Beijing, said he’d never heard of Mississauga when he discovered the design competition online in 2005.

However, he had spent several years studying in Yale University’s architectural program, so Ma said he had in mind a generic, mid-sized North American city.

“I was imagining Mississauga as a city aiming to become Chicago or Toronto, with a lot of big towers, in the future,” he said.

Instead of designing a rectilinear structure, Ma decided to create something that was a bit softer and more livable.

“I was thinking maybe North American cities need something more organic, more natural, more human,” he said.

Ma said he loved the Marilyn nickname, which distinguishes his structures from the world’s other twisting towers, most of which are too geometrical for his tastes. A truer analogue might be Prague’s Dancing House, originally called Fred and Ginger for its sinuous qualities evocative of the dancing pair. It was designed by Frank Gehry and Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic.

The unpredictable bulges of Ma’s skyscrapers, which have a slightly different appearance from every angle, created huge challenges for the towers’ builders and engineers, which translated to financial challenges for the developers. Most skyscrapers are built on straight lines for a reason: They’re more efficient to build that way.

In the Marilyn tower and its counterpart, “every floor is different,” said Sigmund Soudack, a principal with Sigmund Soudack & Associates, a Toronto-based structural engineering firm that consulted on the project. “The challenge was to execute and make the buildings functional.”

While the floor plates are the same for all floors, they had to be rotated to various degrees, said Anthony Pignetti of Dominus Construction Group, which built the Absolute towers. Support walls had to be widened and narrowed, and columns lengthened and shortened, to hold up each successive floor. Builders and engineers had to design an internal construction hoist, since curving walls wouldn’t allow an affordable external one. None of the 428 condo units is exactly alike, Pignetti said.

Each floor has a balcony that wraps fully around it, which had to be separated in some way from the main floor slab or the balcony would drain heat and cold from the units. Engineers solved that problem by designing “thermal breaks” and may seek a patent for the process, said Yury Gelman, a senior engineer on the project.

In all, the five-tower Absolute World project cost $450 million, and more than half of that went into constructing the two curvy towers, said Sergio Vacilotto, the director of site operations with Dominus Construction.

Currently, residents have moved in up to the 15th floor of the Marilyn tower, and occupancy is to begin on the companion tower in the fall.

If the developer had any doubts about sales, it didn’t show. Sharon Florian, director of sales and marketing for the Fernbrook Cityzen, said the Marilyn building was almost completely sold out in about 24 hours in June 2006 and its companion tower largely sold out in a matter of weeks a month later, both at just under $400 a square foot. In the Greater Toronto Area in 2006, new condos were selling in the range of $330 to $380 depending on their location.

All that remains for sale in the Marilyn tower is a handful of units; in the companion tower, 11 units of differing sizes are available, including three penthouses, some of which the developer recently released to the market, Florian said.

“Currently we have some never-released penthouses available in the fifth tower, in the range of 1,600 to 1,800 square feet” at about $1.2 million, she said.

Florian said the developer initially held the international design competition to “bring some excitement to the Mississauga skyline,” but the towers had done much more, particularly in terms of international exposure. While most of the buyers were from the Toronto region, a large number of them were also from overseas, particularly the Middle East and Asia, she said.

Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s mayor, said it was unusual for a city struggling to build an identity through its architecture to look to a residential condominium developed privately. Typically, cities promote public projects, such as a museum or opera house, which in fact Mississauga did with its architecturally distinguished City Hall, which opened in 1987, also the result of an architectural competition.

“What we’ve clearly demonstrated to all the developers that want to build in our city core and throughout the city is we want, if possible, architectural competition, because this is just a leading example of what can be accomplished,” she said.

New York Times