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St Gabriel Village

On a three-hectare piece of property purchased from the Roman Catholic Parish of St. Gabriel’s, near the corner of Bayview and Shepperd Avenues in Toronto, is a new Shane Baghai Inc. development that is a testament to the very concept of GREEN.

The complex – twin 19-storey towers referred to as St. Gabriel Village, 23 townhouses in a grouping called St. Gabriel Lane, and 169 condominiums known as St. Gabriel Terraces – is the latest representation of a 35-year pursuit by Shane Baghai to shine a light on the need for energy conservation and sustainable development, all the way up to the solar turbines working incessantly on rooftops throughout the development to harness the power of the sun and wind.

As a developer, Shane Baghai, a.k.a Shane B Inc., is known for quality, having built that reputation through years building high-quality custom homes, maintaining and building on that reputation as he moved into the condominium sector.

Structural Engineer Bruce Neil, a principal at Adjeleian Allen Rubeli Ltd. says his firm has worked with Baghai on a number of projects over the years. “Shane B projects – and this one was no exception – are high-end, luxurious, high-quality suites, and that carries through to the overall building construction details. Hence, the use of precast cladding throughout, and not just plain old cladding, but cladding to which a great deal of attention was paid in detailing (with kudos to the architect and RES Precast for their efforts and success in producing a beautiful end result).”

For Shane B, however, the luxury amenities have to go hand-in-hand with sustainability. “To me,” explains Baghai, president and CEO of The Baghai Group, “helping the environment by producing material that is durable (is one of the most important considerations) – and I really don’t care how much energy is used up to produce a particular material, if that material doesn’t stand the test of time and doesn’t perform for a very long time, you’re not doing the environment any favours.”

In fact, the development employs high-efficiency boilers, water-saving front-load washers, compact fluorescent lighting, individual heat pumps, heating and cooling controls for each suite – rainwater will even be stored for watering grass. This approach made precast the perfect solution for cladding the buildings because of its recycled content.

Baghai, however, is still a developer of luxury residences, and precast has long been his material of choice for a number of reasons. “I like precast mainly because of its durability, even more than its aesthetic qualities and reasonably easy installation. You can pretty much get any colour and shape that you want out of it. Architecturally, precast has always given us the ability to produce something that is pleasing – to produce many architectural appearances – classic or modern. Precast also gives us the opportunity to manufactur precast pieces with precise window openings so that once the precast is installed, windows will fit in exactly and precisely without any surprises. That’s part of its versatility.”

The developer in Baghai also appreciates the fact that in many cases indoor space is increased as a result of the use of precast. “As opposed to a cavity wall system, which is blocks and bricks,” he notes, “you can actually increase the indoor size of a building by using precast, gaining you two or four inches on each wall because of the thickness.”

Ringing endorsements all, but when it comes right down to it, for a building whose architectural look Baghai describes as turn-of-the-century French, using any cladding material but precast was out of the question. He explains that because the building facade is so tall, it required some sort of break – in aesthetic terms – in the monotony of the façade line, which was accomplished by adding large decorative bands. “Had we elected to create these bands out of natural material,” says Baghai, “they would have cost a lot of money, but it would also have taken so much time that this project would have not even been economically feasible. Imagine if precast hadn’t been available, the only other choices we would have had for some of these details would have been Styrofoam, Fypon, IFS or Dryvit systems. The problem with those is that they are not as sturdy and durable – although some people prefer that route, and we do use them where appropriate where exposure to weather conditions is not as severe – but the architectural detail of St. Gabriel would not have been possible the way it happened with precast.”

Architect Andrew Bigauskas of Rafael & Bigauskas Architect Inc. echoes Baghai and emphasizes that his firm “really loves (precast) as a cladding overall,” and that they are big promoters of the product because of its aesthetics and flexibility. Because the look of the building is more traditional, precast allowed his shop to provide the kind of detailing it wanted to include. “We really tried to take advantage of what precast lets you do, and that is with the three dimensionality of it, rather than just being restricted to a flat plane. Instead, we were able to create significant variation in the face that was reliable, watertight, and aesthetically what we wanted to accomplish. Expressing the arches over the windows and the lower floor detailing at the pedestrian level was also made possible through the use of precast.”

Bigauskas points out that precast also enabled designers to reproduce the very specific colour that they were after for the traditional look of the building. “We were looking for something with a natural stone-like finish in colour and appearance – not that I’m saying it’s a replacement for stone – but it allowed us to economically create a very substantial feel and texture to the building without getting into the expense of using natural stone.”

That natural stone look that precast lent to the St. Gabriel project is a particular point of pride for Baghai, whose decades-long body of work has been infused with a rich, textured aesthetic. “I think that if a European person looked at St. Gabriel, at a glance,” he says, “they would probably think this is limestone, and yet it isn’t. It’s the natural look of precast that is extremely important, particularly for designers who are familiar with European design and appreciate natural stone, and that’s a look that you can create by using precast.”

As a matter of fact, Baghai is such a fan of precast, and such a student of sustainability as a general pursuit, that he even has thoughts about where he sees room for precast innovation in the future. “I think we can even improve on it – and I’m sure that there are manufacturers that are working on this now – if we can create an envelope within the precast that comes with insulation so that precast will not only serve us with its durability, but also with its energy conserving qualities. ontinue to use precast in all of my buildings.”

Owner/Developer: Shane B. Inc. (The Baghai Group)
Architect: Rafael & Bigauskas Architect Inc.
Structural Engineer: Adjeleian Allen Rubeli Ltd.
Precast: RES Precast Inc.
Rebar: Salit Steel
Roofing: Protech Roofing Ltd.
Mechanical & Electrical: TEGI Engineering
Landscape Architect: Strybos Associates

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