Downtown Toronto’s waterfront, especially its eastern edge, is bustling with construction, one of the busiest in the world these days. But building is one thing. Working from a master plan, where the construction is part of a larger vision before you start to dig, is quite another.

Waterfront Toronto is the organization that is overseeing revitalization projects along the waterfront, formed when the federal, provincial and local governments came together in 2001. Anyone who takes a walk along Queens Quay west of Yonge St. can see full well the disaster that can happen if there’s no planning, and development runs amok. The stewards of the waterfront aimed to get this area right, especially from a design perspective.

So it’s hard to argue progress when one of the world’s top architects joins forces with the one of the area’s top home builders. Re: Luxe was at the groundbreaking ceremony for Great Gulf’s 44-storey Monde luxury condo, next to Corus Quay and George Brown College, architect Moshe Safdie’s first residential project in Canada since the landmark Habitat ’67 housing complex in Montreal. Monde will feature more than 500 condo units and ground level retail.

How does the project embody luxury? Well, the views are pretty good. People who live there will have a great public realm around them, streets and parks, as well as a full stable of luxury amenities in the building, on top of the architecture and quality of design.

We caught up with Moshe, as well as Waterfront Toronto’s president and CEO John Campbell and Great Gulf Residential president Christopher Wein.

LL: What does having an architect with the stature of Mr. Safdie mean for the overall development of East Bayfront, from your perspective?

JC: Monde really leverages the work Waterfront Toronto has done in making this area appealing to this kind of private sector investment. We made it clear during the RFQ process with developers that we wanted design excellence with this project. Great Gulf responded by bringing in Canada’s greatest architect. Obviously that helped them in the follow-up RFP. The fact we are not just building buildings on a site-by-site basis, at least in the East Bayfront area, and the fact we are executing a master plan for the precinct, that adds a lot of value. The work we have done through our design review panel has raised the bar. We are looking for the best value, a combination of money (the land is a public asset), but also design quality and sustainability, all those things that are city building. We are about city building, not just peddling real estate.

LL: How is the urban fabric of Toronto, in terms of its architecture, and design, evolving?

MS: Like most Metropolitan cities that are fast growing, Toronto is densifying, getting more compact, some of it good, some of it less good. The challenges of urban design are all there. On the waterfront, there is a great deal of care being taken, about having an urban design scheme that doesn’t repeat the errors of 20 years ago. Monde is an urban building, it anticipates the streets full of life, and works together with the surrounding buildings. That’s why I say there is an urban design scheme here, and Monde understands the urban realm, by having retail on the ground floor, facing the park, facing the street and taking advantage of the view of the lake. It is “urbanistically” responsible while giving a good quality of life to the people who live there. There are great amenities, terraces, open to the sky, dramatic balconies, and a great deck with a swimming pool facing the lake. It will be a fun, urban place to live.

CW: I love the city of Toronto. It’s really coming into its own from an architecture and urbanism perspective. What really defines an amazing city when you think of other cities around the world is having a worldclass waterfront. To date that’s been part of Toronto that’s really been missing. We have this great natural wonder and we have not created the modern, urban playground around that. East Bayfront represents a big step in the evolution of the city with respect to how we are now going to end up with a worldclass waterfront. Monde will be a centrepiece of that. That’s why we believed it was important to bring Moshe back to do a major iconic residential tower. He recognized that Toronto deserved more than it was getting. He recognized this was an evolutionary project in an evolutionary neighbourhood, an opportunity to be part of the re-shaping of Toronto’s waterfront. It deserved a masterpiece by someone of Moshe’s stature. This isn’t about an icon in a neighbourhood; this is about creating an entirely new neighbourhood.