ERA Architects designs the Ken Soble Tower

Leading the way in tower retrofits across North America, ERA Architects designs the 18-storey Ken Soble Tower.

ERA Architects (ERA) has designed Ken Soble Tower, a transformation of a declining post-war, affordable seniors housing tower into an 18-storey building.

The tower is set to become one of the largest Passive House retrofits in North America – earning the coveted EnerPHit certification. As the oldest high-rise, multi-residential building in CityHousing Hamilton’s (CHH) portfolio, the 146-unit Ken Soble Tower has stood in Hamilton’s skyline on MacNab Street North in the West Harbour neighbourhood since 1967.

ERA Architects’ design for Ken Soble Tower serves as model for tower renewal across North America (Image credit: Codrin Talaba)

Following several studies and consultations with residents and community members to explore the future of the building, including renovation, sale or replacement, a decision was made to retrofit the tower in 2016. 

Ken Soble Tower has achieved a staggering 94 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 89 per cent reduction in thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI).  

As an example of Canada leading in large scale net-zero-ready retrofit, it showcases a set of strategies which can be scaled up nationwide in support of Canada’s climate and housing renewal goals, according to the Tower Renewal Partnership, a non-profit research and policy initiative co-founded by ERA that aims to preserve and enhance aging housing across Canada.

Ken Soble Tower has stood proud in Hamilton’s skyline in the West Harbour neighbourhood since 1967. (Image Credit: Codrin Talaba)

“Ken Soble Tower is a true beacon on an international stage, showcasing how low carbon and low energy retrofits are not only sustainable, but also realize the best outcomes for residents’ health, safety and comfort within their homes,” says Graeme Stewart, Principal, ERA Architects. “Many aging, postwar apartment towers provide critical affordable housing for millions of Canadians, but increasingly face complex challenges that require repair. Our hope is that the Ken Soble Tower marks the beginning of a wave of deep retrofits across the country. As we look towards a post-pandemic recovery amid a climate-challenged world, there’s an urgency to apply this type of holistic thinking on a broader scale.”

Analyzing and referencing 2050 temperature projections to mitigate against extreme climate events, the Ken Soble Tower features a high-performance envelope, with exterior and interior insulation that meet stringent airtightness requirements, triple-glazed windows and an interior HVAC systems replacement. Maintaining the iconic white façade, ERA has also re-cladded the building with new stucco panels. 

Large, operable Juliet balconies were installed that offer natural light and increased air flow. (Image Credit: Doublespace Photography)

Indoors, each unit was fit out with new kitchens, bathrooms, flooring and lighting. Drastically improving indoor air quality, each unit has also been provided with a fresh air supply through efficient direct-suite ventilation, and materials and finishes that produce lower pollutants. At its peak, the total energy required to heat and cool units would be equivalent to three incandescent light bulbs.

Also central to Ken Soble Tower’s design is accessibility and aging-in-place, leading the designers to reconfigure 21 per cent of units to be barrier-free. To achieve this, many partitions were removed, and large, operable Juliet balconies were installed that offer scenic views of the waterfront, natural light and increased air flow. The building’s common areas, including lobbies, community spaces and amenities are also barrier free.

To ensure seniors can still access critical services and programming, and to foster social opportunities, ERA has redesigned all community spaces and outdoor gathering areas. The penthouse laundry room has been reimagined into a solarium with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide panoramic views of Hamilton and the waterfront. A new ground floor laundry room and community room connect to an outdoor terrace and garden, encouraging social cohesion – a perfect opportunity for residents to socialize and meet one another.

ERA has redesigned all community spaces and outdoor gathering areas at Ken Soble Tower. (Image Credit: Codrin Talaba)

“Comfort-first metrics are at the core of the Passive House certification, achieving the same goals as an energy-first model, but with a human centric approach,” says Ya’el Santopinto, Principal, ERA Architects. “This retrofit has enabled us to enhance the building’s intrinsic value, maintain its original thoughtfulness, and also build an ecosystem of best practices.”

Quick Facts:

Lead Architect: ERA Architects
Project name: Ken Soble Tower
Size: 18 storeys, 80,000 sq ft., 146 units
Location: 500 MacNab St. N, Hamilton ON
Construction Manager: PCL Construction