Saturday, September 18, 2010
Special to the Star
Long after the memories of Marilyn Monroe have faded, two well endowed condos will still be twisting the years away in downtown Mississauga.
Curvaceous. Shockingly new.
Absolute Buildings 4 and 5 are being built to last for the next century and beyond.
While their growing shapes are unconventional — the 56-storeyAbsolute 4 has been dubbed the Marilyn Monroe building because of its curves while Absolute 5, at 50 storeys, will sport a masculine big butt profile — it is the traditional application of concrete, and lots of it, that will make these buildings an eye-catching monument in time.
The condominiums have been under construction for over three years. Now, as the structures begin to tower over the nearby City Hall and Square One shopping centre, motorists, pedestrians and probably even the pilots of low flying planes are taking note of the now undulating skyline.
Designed by MAD architects, a very cutting edge and oh-so-chic Beijing-based architectural firm, their Mississauga condos with curves are being hailed as examples of “structural expressionism.”
Both condos break the mold on status quo. And of the two, Marilyn Monroe is the most different and therefore most interesting in terms of how it is being built.
Anthony Pignetti of the Dominus Construction Group is the director of highrise construction of the Marilyn Monroe building. Dominus is overseeing the building for Fernbrook Homes and the Cityzen Development Group.
Pignetti is quite used to being asked how a building can be rotated in space. Taking up a stack of his business cards, he shows how it is being done on the worksite. He holds the cards tightly in the centre and fans them out. While each card is the same size, the overall shape of the deck has morphed.
The cards, like the 56 egg shaped floors in the new Marilyn Monroe condo, remain rooted to the center (where fingers hold them in place) but are angled away from each other at a measurable angle.
“Each floor in Absolute 4 (Marilyn Monroe) is egg shaped and, like the cards, is fanned out from the centre of the building,” explains Pignetti. “The angle of difference between one floor and another ranges from one to eight degrees. Absolute 5 is different because the floors are shifted (from the core) at a constant angle shift of four degrees.”
HOW MARILYN MONROE
IS BEING BUILT
The business of building a condo with off-centered ovoid floors began not with a deep hole, but rather in a wind tunnel — it was essential for the architects to find out how a non-rectangular building would be affected by the elements.
“The wind tunnel tests at the University of Waterloo showed we had to build heavy underground and the first 25-floors above ground,” says Pignetti.
He estimates that the building’s base is about 20 per cent stronger than a traditional condo of the same size. Not surprising, the actual construction cost of the building will be about 20 per cent more than a typical 400 unit glass skyscraper.
And under Marilyn Monroe’s glass exterior is special concrete and steel, and lots of it.
The basement, all six floors of it, was dug like any other big project. The differences come into play with the Marilyn Monroe when her foundation — the basement walls and the floors — were made. Her bottom was constructed using a thick network of reinforced steel poles (rebar) that increases the tensile strength of the concrete that now covers it.
All buildings rely on rebar, but, in the case of Marilyn Monroe, a bigger rebar has been used. “Not only is it a thicker grade of rebar, we have used more of it” explains Pignetti “It is so tightly packed together you could easily walk across the rebar in the beams.”
So dense is this forest of rebar that traditional concrete could not be poured over and around it. Instead a special flowing concrete has been used on the lower floors.
Dump run-of-the-mill concrete inside a form made of plywood and you won’t get a solid wall after it has set. Concrete, when left on its own, leaves large air gaps inside the mix. In fact construction experts say that with traditional concrete as much of 20 per cent of its volume is made of trapped air. Bubbles reduce the density of concrete and that lowers its strength while increasing the chances that water will do damage.
On “typical” construction sites it is very much a case of shake while you bake. The concrete is vibrated to shake all the big air bubbles out. The oversized rebar used in the Marilyn Monroe is too thick and too close together to allow for equipment to vibrate poured concrete. Instead, a relatively new and more expensive concrete has been used for the foundation and the first 25-floors above ground.
“We have been pouring SCC — self-consolidating concrete,” explains Sergio Vacilotto, Dominus’ director of site operations. “It is highly flowable. In fact it fills the forms so completely we have to seal off their ends so that it doesn’t drain right out of the seams and onto the floor.”
This new expensive concrete uses super plasticizers and it is the weight of its mass, not vibration, that allows it to set without air pockets or seams. The concrete now exposed in Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished first floor lobby has a noticeable superior, almost polished, surface finish.
This summer Marilyn Monroe’s SCC passed the earthquake test. Workers already working on the 50th floor barely felt the 5.5 earthquake that rumbled through Ontario in July. “We didn’t even lay down our tools” said Vacilotto.
Because the windows have not yet been installed the innards of the building are easy to see. There are five ramrod straight concrete pillars that run from her bottom to her top. These pillars, the building’s core, form a tower that each floor, no matter its angle, is attached to.
Inside these pillars six high-speed elevators will soon be installed. “Sure the building has curves but you can’t run elevators at an angle so there has to a perpendicular core.”
At right angles to the centre tower there are four “C” shaped smaller concrete pillars. Like the central core, the squared Cs run straight and true from the basement to the roof. These are the passageways that carry the electricity and water upwards and residential garbage and recycled goods downwards.
Sounds normal. Where it gets a little wacky is in the building of each individual floor around these core shafts and tower.
The floors are egg shaped concrete platters. Since each individual plate is skewed at a different angle than the floor directly below or above it, each suite in the building is different.
While in a traditional condo tower each unit’s kitchen and bathroom is directly in line with the kitchen and bathroom above and below it, the same isn’t true in the Marilyn Monroe.
Wearing a hard hat and work boots and standing on the 49th floor, Vacilotto uses his hands to show where a unit’s bathrooms and kitchen will be. “If we drilled down to a lower floor chances are there wouldn’t be a kitchen or bathroom there. They could be here (pointing to a spot close to the open edge of the building) or over there (gesturing back to the core tower).”
This gives unit owners uniqueness not found in any other large format condo build. But by not having water and sewage services running down the building in a straight line, the actual placement of pipes becomes an integral part of the initial stages of the construction.
“On some floors we have more piping running horizontally across the ceiling than we do going vertically through the floor to the next unit below,” Vacilotto says.
Building a tall condo is akin to creating a vertical assembly line. Each floor has to be created by a team of skilled tradesmen before the next level can be added.
Pouring concrete inside standing plywood forms creates the load bearing walls. Since the ceiling (and the next level’s floor) comes after the walls, the concrete is poured in between the wooden forms from above.
When the walls have firmly set, the plywood forms come down. The ceiling is poured and the basic services — electricity, water, sewage and gas — are roughed in.
There are no outside walls, so the forms are bundled up and put on a platform on the outside of Ms Monroe and lifted up to the next level so the floor building process can continue.
We can’t “fly” form (a crane swings the forms out the side of a building and lifts it up to the next level) the way other buildings do,” said Vacilotto. “The shape doesn’t allow for it.”
It takes about four days to build a floor at the Marilyn Monroe site. Periodically the roof crane and a concrete pumping rig are raised to keep pace with the growing condo.
Driving by you can’t see how busy the construction site is. The top two floors of Marilyn Monroe have a downward slanting brightly coloured collar around it.
The covering is there to make sure the workers, their tools and building material don’t fall down onto a busy Burnhamthorpe Rd. below. The barrier also protects the workers from the constant wind. And it takes the edge off anyone suffering from a fear of heights.
Watching the concrete being pumped from a crane you don’t see that you are at the top of the tallest building in Mississauga. But once the structure is complete, the view from inside will be just as interesting as the view from outside.
Cookie cutter and tiny boxes on boxes are two condo clichés that don’t get used much when talking about the Marilyn Monroe. Each suite is aligned differently than the units above and below it. And each suite varies in shapes and sizes depending on where it is on the ovoid shaped floor.
A unit’s view of the outside world will be through a curved bank of windows and glass doors. Where there isn’t window glass there will be spandrel opaque glass panels giving Marilyn Monroe a wall-of-glass look.
These windows don’t open, instead there are sliding doors leading out to balconies. The balconies range in size; from 10 to 50 feet — it all depends if you are on a hip or a waist. If you stand on the bulge side of the ovoid and look down, you can’t see any other balconies. Go to another unit and look over the edge and you see a stepped progression of balconies below you. Look up and you will see ledge upon ledge of concrete.
Dominus Construction Group readily admits that the building is over built. All that extra concrete, rebar and snaking pipe work does have its advantages. This is a building that could well be standing in the year 2110.
The project has caught the interest of buyers and builders alike. Only a handful of suites are left for sale and the top floor was snapped up long ago by a single customer. A steady stream of companies from across the country have sent their own builders in to look up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to see for themselves how it is being done.
The sales office is on on Absolute Ave. Hours are Monday to Wednesday 1 to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. For more information, go to www.absolutecondos.com.
Facts & Figures
• Absolute consists of five buildings in the block on the northeast corner of Burnhamthorpe Rd. and Hurontario St. in Mississauga.
• Absolute 4 (Marilyn Monroe) has a rotation of 207 degrees from the base to the top.
• Absolute 5 has a rotation of 200 degrees from the base to the top.
• Absolute 4 will reach 56 storeys. Each level has nine-foot ceilings except the penthouse level, which will have 10-foot ceilings
• Marilyn Monroe has 428 suites; her shorter companion will have 453.
• Marilyn Monroe’s largest suite will be 3,500 square feet, her smallest will be 545 square feet.
• Marilyn Monroe will have six penthouse units, 100 2 ½ -bedroom suites, 217 2-bedroom suites and only 28 1-bedroom units.
• Amount of concrete that has been poured at Absolute 4: 4,400 cubic meters
• Amount of concrete still to be poured at Absolute 4: 1,500 cubic meters
• Absolute 4 and 5 share a common garage with 954 parking spaces.
• There will be a retail space between the two buildings.
• A 30,000-square-foot, three-storey recreation centre has already been built. It has indoor and outdoor pools, a basketball court, two squash courts, weight room, cardio room, games room, three party rooms, five furnished guest suites, a 48-seat theatre, spa, indoor and outdoor whirlpool, men’s and women’s change rooms with showers, lockers and sauna/steam room, library room and outdoor barbeque facilities.