The Mississauga Urban Design Awards not only celebrate good design in the city, but also raise the bar for the quality of future developments. The winners are usually trendsetters which serve as examples of excellent urban design. 2010 marked the 29th year of Mississauga’s awards, the longest running urban design awards in Ontario.

The judging criteria aim to capture the components of good urban design: significance on a city wide or community scale, innovation, context, execution, living green and supporting Mississauga’s Strategic Plan.

“Living green is a new category, which recognizes the movement toward having more environmentally sensitive or sustainable projects”, said Wayne Nishihama, Manager of Design for the City.

In order to receive an award of excellence a project need not meet all judging criteria, rather as much and as many as possible.

“Urban design is different than architecture. Urban Design is really about the relationship between buildings and the relationship of public spaces to those buildings,” said Ed Sajecki, Commissioner of Planning and Building for the City of Mississauga. “It’s the experience that one feels, as you’re walking along the sidewalk or even driving along in a car. It’s how you see all those elements that make up a streetscape relating to each other.”

Nishihama said urban design is about how a development fits into the context of the city, but can also be evaluated on a smaller community scale, and this is well-executed when the development simply “fits into the neighbourhood.”

“Another part of urban design is building character or creating a sense of place”, said Michael Spaziani, the principal of MSAi, an architecture firm specializing in urban design.

“There’s an element of it that’s not just physical planning, but manipulating space to create a sensation,” said Spaziani, who was on the jury for the awards in 2006 and won an award in 2008 for his firm’s work in the restoration of the Settlers Log Cabin at the Bradley Museum.

“My particular view of urban design is one where it’s not as much the quality of the building as it is the appropriateness of the height and location of the building,” said Spaziani. “You can have excellent urban design with poor architecture, but you can’t make good urban design on the strength of a good building.”

Projects completed within the year before Sept. 10 were nominated for the 2010 awards, then judged upon each individual nominee’s merit. If the jury doesn’t think any project deserves an award, then no awards are given.

Eligible project types include open spaces, single buildings, additions or exterior renovations, communities, infrastructure such as bridges, or elements of design such as bus shelters.

This year’s jury consisted of Ed Sajecki, three prominent architects Meg Graham, James Melvin and Alex Temporale and a student working towards a Masters of Architecture Ningxin (Sophia) Zhu. The jury spent Oct. 19 looking at all eight nominations and after a few hours of deliberation granted one award of excellence and two awards of merit. The awards were presented during a council meeting on Nov. 24.

The jury decided AeroCentre V, located at 5550 Explorer Dr. in the airport corporate centre,deserved a 2010 Award of Excellence. According to jury comments the proposed LEED gold development is an excellent example of intensification and innovation. An above ground parking structure is incorporated into the base of the building.

The execution was also successful. “How the materials fit together and the quality of the materials, it really shows on the site,” said Nishihama.

An Award of Merit for Context was given to the Ultra Ovation high-rise, located at 330 Burnhamthorpe Rd., as the jury felt it helped complete the streetscape, while its circular form and “stylish rooftop” helped create a focal point.

An Award of Merit for Community Scale and Execution was presented to the Courtyard House located at 1255 Birchview Dr. in an established Lorne Park neighbourhood. Director of the Planning and Building Department for the City of Mississauga Marilyn Ball said the department wants feedback from the community on completed developments.

“There’s something about the public awareness and acknowledgement of what gets built that tends to probably put a little additional pressure on the developer to strive to do better, ” said Ball.

Sajecki points out, “The community is demanding better quality design,” adding that especially the younger market is expecting it.

As Mississauga grows and develops people point to great cities like Boston, New York, or Toronto and want us to emulate it in Mississauga, said Nishihama. “We’re building a hybrid city, something new; not trying to copy something. There’s no model for us to follow.”

Sajecki suggests the public realm is what people remember about cities they really enjoy.

“I bet if you really think deeply about what you remember most are the grand avenues, or the great shopping streets or the wonderful parks or the wonderful squares, the monuments,” he said. “Those are in my view what make really great cities – the landscaping, lots of tree-lined parks, wide sidewalks.”

Mississauga needs to expand the types of spaces it has, said Spaziani, pointing to the success of the relatively new public square in Port Credit Village on the southwest corner of Hurontario Street and Lakeshore Road.

“There’s a little space, it’s off the street and it’s an extremely successful thing. It has people sitting outside in the caf?, there are kids playing out on the grass and it’s really delightful, it’s got activity on it,” he said. “Urban design has to expand the types of spaces that we have, it has to be a richer environment.”

The Designer – Michael Spaziani

Michael Spaziani is the principal of MSAi, an architectural firm in Port Credit specializing in urban design. The firm, founded in 1986, operates from a renovated mid-1800s heritage building.

His dream projects include designing his own home (he just needs $4 million), designing a homeless shelter in Port Credit or designing a studio for Daniel Lanois, which would blend his love of music with his love of architecture.

“But the biggest dream is getting the Small Arms Building in Lakeview designed and open for the artists and environmentalists of Mississauga,” he said.

Spaziani sits on the Mississauga Heritage Committee, on the boards of the Lakeview Legacy Foundation and the Port Credit Community Foundation, and is the former director of the Mississauga Arts Gallery. He also volunteers his time to the Mississauga Urban Design Advisory Panel.

Last year Spaziani was inducted into the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada College of Fellows.