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Urbanist Wonk Buzzword of the Month: Podiumism

2011 April 27
by dan bertolet

< Rendering of proposed Theatre Park project in Toronto; image by LAMBDEVCORP >

In the infinitely complex world of the built environment in cities, any regulation, no matter how well-intended, inevitably runs up against a unique situation that demands an exception. Case in point, Toronto developer Brad Lamb’s proposal for a 47-story condo tower shown in the rendering to the left.

The problem?  Toronto, like most large cities, requires buildings to front the sidewalk, but the proposed building would be set back. The expected design, as made famous by Vancouver, BC, is a relatively short (~40′) podium that holds the street edge at the sidewalk, with a set back, slender tower above.

Lamb argues—correctly, I believe—that it’s okay to have some occasional relief in the street wall, and in particular in this case because the building is so narrow—it’s only 62 feet wide at the sidewalk edge (here’s an example of a ~60-foot building).

And to drive his point home, Lamb et. al. have been tossing around a most excellent new word to strike fear into the hearts of urbanists everywhere: podiumism.

Here in Seattle podiumism belongs pretty much at the bottom our list of urban design challenges. For one thing, the City has yet to produce a true example of the slender-tower-on-podium building type.

But the bigger lesson is valid: One size (or building type, or frontage) never fits all. Exceptions to the rule are what makes life interesting.