Abbey Gardens

ARCHITECT Williamson Chong Architects
LOCATION Haliburton County, Ontario

Through the Abbey Gardens initiative, the design team is working with a group of concerned residents who have accepted the challenge to work together to make Haliburton County a hub of environmental initiatives and provide a demonstration of what a community can do in response to the challenges of climate change, carbon reduction and greening. Abbey Gardens is the master-plan proposal for a prototypical community village. The project aims to revisit food as the natural binding social agent towards building naturally sustainable communities whose foundation would be a long-term framework for sharing food and ideas.

Serving its immediate locale, as well as a broader regional audience across Southern Ontario and Quebec, the scheme is centred around distinct built projects which would, over time, stitch into existing open “rooms” left behind what was once a gravel quarry–on a 210-acre lot three hours north of Toronto in Haliburton County, Ontario.

Abbey Gardens is a reclamation project, an opportunity to reuse what may otherwise be leftover “carcass” land while rekindling a community and launching a vibrant social enterprise. The initial built project would begin with a series of greenhouses, then later flanked with a low-level armature housing a visitors’ centre, gallery spaces and a restaurant which would provide chef training and menu-tasting of local foods. This area would also host conferences and lectures, known as “Thought for Food,” aiming to appeal to the emerging breadth of people who find food to be central to their disciplines and/or interests.

Using the artists-in-residence format, people from all walks of life who in their own way engage food–nutritionists, agriculturalists, urbanists, chefs, farmers, food-policy planners–could find a home at Abbey Gardens, where seemingly disparate interests can provide a place for a healthy coalescence of advanced thinking. In many ways, the gardens can be an “abbey” where ideas are cultivated and developed with thorough study, focus and collegial input.

Through a series of modular greenhouse structures which can grow in stages, the flagship structure known as the Cradle would shape itself along a cresting path which houses a public viewing loggia. This loggia would structurally support a climate-controlled trunk route which would accelerate efficient ventilation and air exchange by virtue of the tapered tower stack–which doubles as the lateral-resisting side core for a nine-storey Food Spire.

The Food Spire would be the repository for all resources and ideas in the form of traditional library-format stacks but also open-source media storage and retrieval. The uppermost floor is equipped with a dining hall and test kitchen for conferences, workshops and small-format lectures, dovetailed with a lookout towards the surrounding lakes. It will also provide an observation laboratory in which to survey growth patterns, wind and climatological conditions over time and calibrated for the possibility of sharing data across similar points throughout the region. 

As the flagship project–which is positioned to grow in modules around a solar-optimized arc facing south but with slightly varying angles–the Cradle would frame the forecourt Nest, which would draw any water from the south-facing sloping surfaces. The Cradle frames the moat-like liner which is configured with a masonry-wetland-cistern strategy for gravity-drawn natural filtering in a xeriscaped landscape to enhance local flora and fauna activity.

WF An ambitious examination of the interrelationship between community, food production, and the architecture that might enable intensive agricultural production. 

DN This is a very smart and exciting project, fusing reclaimed and regenerated land with production buildings. I am not sure if we made a connection between the Storm Water Quality Facility and Abbey Gardens, but it seems both these projects have very strong infrastructure components that address the notion that great design emerges from a clear, strong program, and a sense of connection to their respective contexts. Good designers recognize the architectural potential of these project types. In terms of the landscape and architectural design, the master plan delineates all the pieces that comprise Abbey Gardens.

PS The proposal for Abbey Gardens is a compelling reclamation of otherwise residual and underused land. The commitment to a social ecology here is strengthened by the architectural response to program and site, linking the place and its users to the broader region and its community. The inherent suggestion that shelter, like food, is a natural adhesive for community positions the architecture as a fundamental maker not of form, but of people, their values, and the manner in which they commit to the places they inhabit. The successful investment that architecture makes here is not simply a promotion of values but rather, it is the actual commitment the project makes to sustaining the emergence of a local quality of life.

CLIENT John Patterson
ARCHITECT TEAM Donald Chong, Shane Williamson, Betsy Williamson, Chris Routley, Vlad Berezovskiy
DRAWINGS AND RENDERINGS Williamson Chong Architects
AREA 28.5 hectares (70 acres new landscaped area; 25,800 m2 building area)
BUDGET withheld