Block 31

ARCHITECTS architectsAlliance and Maclennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects in Joint Venture
LOCATION Toronto, Ontario

This highly innovative urban development project has created a new model for infill development and the integration of public services, one that is literally without precedent in the city of Toronto or the province of Ontario. Block 31 demonstrates the value of integrating key public services–education, recreation, and public green space–with amenable and affordable rental and market housing, resulting in intelligent and supportable intensification. Combining innovative programming with imaginative, unconventional building typology and urban planning, Block 31 shows how public agencies and municipal governments can revitalize underutilized brownfield sites, create new urban enclaves in proximity to existing transportation infrastructure, and deliver public services more effectively, while realizing efficiencies in capital and operational costs, security, and building management.

Block 31 includes a 3,500-square-metre community recreation centre with five gymnasiums; a 870-square-metre childcare centre; two elementary schools of 6,040 square metres and 5,000 square metres respectively; and 354 units of family housing. The architectural components of the project are set into a figural ground plane; a cruciform courtyard between the schools is aligned to preserve view corridors north-south and east-west. At the west side of the site, the courtyard space terminates in a ROW devoted to a 19,100-square-metre public park and two playing fields totalling 5,230 square metres.

Given the social mandate of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) to provide quality housing for low- and moderate-income households, the residential components of Block 31 were developed with a family-centric vision, a partial liberation from the typical market forces that drive condominium tower massing. Common amenities have been distributed throughout the building in the form of mid-level and rooftop green spaces; these places simultaneously combat the anonymity of tower life by functioning as multi-storey common rooms that act as referential space and create opportunities for the kind of informal, day-to-day interactions that foster a true a sense of “neighbourliness.”

The vertiginous ledges that parade as balconies on standard condos have been replaced with more generously proportioned “outdoor rooms”–useful and amenable exterior spaces that are detailed to provide both privacy and privileged views to Lake Ontario. These deep overhangs also serve as brises-soleil for the exposed western faade, helping address the solar heat gain of the units. Through an architecture of generosity and dignified proportions, Block 31 aims to create the space for family and community conditions that is at the heart of the TCHC mission.

A detailed survey of teachers from representative local schools was conducted, and the programmatic results integrated with broader institution-wide ideals communicated by the Toronto District School Board/Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees. Distinct typologies were fashioned for each of four student stages of development. These elements were then arranged in relation to each other and in response to Block 31 site conditions, to create additional communal spaces inside and outside the building, complementing the common areas located in the residential components of the project. A prominent communication stair creates a connection between the multi-storey schools, while the transparency of the western faade blurs the line between interior academic and community centre uses and the adjacent public park. Through the diversity of environments and the social intentions of the communal spaces, the design participates in the schools’ goal of realizing the maximum potential of their students.

GH: This is a very important civic project. The mixed-use program is artfully arranged and is at the appropriate urban density to create real community identity. The architectural expression is playful, yet refined. This is the type of “city-making” that transforms neighbourhoods. Both the client and the architect should be congratulated on an exceptional design.

JPL: This project deals with issues of density in an elegant and skillful manner. Thanks to the negotiation process which allows for increased heights in exchange for social and educational components on a given site, the architects were able to free ground space and offer facilities that are much needed in this mixed area of Toronto. I hope that Block 31’s developers will have the wisdom to retain the elaborate sky gardens and green roofs through the project’s value-engineering process prior to construction.

PR: This project builds up density where there’s existing infrastructure, and it does it exceptionally well. The projected balconies break up the scale and visually enrich while recognizing a need for privacy. There is some encouraging tectonic aspiration here.

Client Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, City of Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation, City of Toronto Child Services
Architect Team architectsAlliance–Peter Clewes, Adrian DiCastri, Deni Papetti, Walter Bettio, Savernaz Esmaeili, Ed Zec, Rogelio Bayaton, Julia DiCastri, Rob Miacchi. Maclennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects–Viktor Jaunkalns, David Miller, Robert Allen, Nicholas Choy, Jeanne Eng, Tamira Sawatzky, Catherine McMahon.
Structural Blackwell Bowick Partnership Limited and Quinn Dressel Associates–Engineers in Joint Venture
Mechanical/Electrical MCW Consultants Limited
Landscape Planning Partnership
Sustainability Cobalt Engineering
Area 12,151.6 m2
Budget $100 M
Completion 2012