West Don Lands Block 8 - Winner, 2019 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence
29 Nov 2019

From the December 2019 issue of Canadian Architect:

Block 8 is a three-building development in Toronto’s 80-hectare West Don Lands. The brownfield site has a patchwork of neighbours: the brick warehouses of the Distillery District, the glass and steel of the Canary District, and the last vestiges of an industrial waterfront.

The project also has a charged socio-economic context. Toronto faces a 33 percent population growth over the next 20 years, and though renters comprise 22 percent of households, only 10.9 percent of new residential construction is purpose-built rental. As a pilot project for the City, Block 8 will fast-track 770 units of rental housing. Thirty percent of these units will be affordable. Ten percent of all of the units are sized for families. Over 25 percent of all units are either fully accessible or barrier-free, allowing residents to age in place.

Affordable and market units alike are designed to a high level of quality and distributed evenly through all three towers. Inspired by their surroundings, the buildings are composed in three tiers. A masonry podium reflects the industrial vernacular of the Distillery District’s single-storey tank houses. The middle layer uses deeply carved lintels and angular infill panels to pick up on the gridded façades of local warehouses. Scallop-patterned towers crown two of the blocks, echoing the ribbed forms of nearby grain silos.

The site planning encourages pedestrian activity and interweaves public and private space. Parking, loading and services are buried below-grade, making room for a fine-grained fabric of streets, promenades and plazas. Private townhouse yards open onto intimate mews, lined with trees and paved with herringbone brick. The westernmost block is set back to frame a new public plaza on a streetcar loop. On the upper levels, generous setbacks allow for outdoor amenity spaces, connected by bridges between the three buildings.

The development targets LEED Gold, with energy saving strategies including a 50/50 window-to-wall ratio, high-performance glazing, R30 green roofs, and high-efficiency mechanical units. The team is discussing the inclusion of SolarWall systems to preheat air for corridor ventilation. There is also the possibility of a district energy system being implemented.

Jury Comments

Rami Bebawi: I’m compelled by the curved windows, which have an industrial inspiration. The decision to have the bottom five storeys in brick gives it a scale that works. And given the present densification of Toronto, such considerations for scale are essential to enhance the street-scale experience.

Joe Lobko: This project reminds us of the basic rules of great urbanism: buildings that help define streets and public spaces, with a vibrant ground plane and appropriately scaled and shaped built form that artfully interprets its historic context, while accommodating a wide range of use and population. It works on so many levels. The approach to affordable housing for this privileged site is timely, ambitious and appropriate for provincial land such as this.

Cindy Wilson: As a pilot project for the City of Toronto, enormous care has been taken to create great urbanism, and the architects have done this expertly on many fronts. Although the sustainability of the project is current today, it should be pushed to future-proof the building for the benefit of the inhabitants. Connection to a district energy system should be implemented or other measures taken to contribute to the long-term viability of the rental units.

Published by Canadian Architect online: https://www.canadianarchitect.com/west-don-lands-block-8/