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Montgomery Sisam Architects designs Modular Supportive Housing in Toronto

Montgomery Sisam Architects has completed the construction of the first of two supportive housing complexes, at 11 Macey Avenue, to help Toronto’s overburdened shelter system, exacerbated in recent months by the COVID-19 pandemic. A second complex—at 150 Harrison Street—has begun construction. Together, the two buildings will accommodate a total of 100 new homes.

The two modular housing complexes were commissioned six months ago by the City of Toronto. Leveraging an innovative rapid delivery model, the complexes will provide permanent long-term housing for those currently experiencing homelessness. The architectural response conceives of a simple, functional module and creates from it a thoughtful, elegant addition to the urban fabric.

150 Harrison Street rendering courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects
11 Macey Avenue rendering courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects

“What the global pandemic has made infinitely clear is the need for more rapid response strategies across many key services, including AEC. However quickly we can design and build, it is never fast enough, particularly when lives are at stake,” says Montgomery Sisam Architects. “The decision to proceed with modular construction – an emerging trend in the construction industry, particularly in housing – was an informed response to the building program.”

The design team developed a residential expression that uses the modular units like any other building block to create a rhythm and mass that resonates with the local context. A carefully curated palette of materials, along with modest but impactful on-site touches, was applied to enhance the tactility of each building and to achieve a site-specific quality despite the buildings’ factory origins.

150 Harrison Street rendering courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects

11 Macey Avenue includes 56 bachelor units, each with its own kitchen and washroom. This three-storey building also includes a shared communal kitchen and dining room as well as administrative offices and program space.

The narrow end of the building fronts the street; its bulk is hidden behind to give it a more discrete presence and continue the rhythm of the streetscape. A trellis-covered building entrance is placed along the north facade, off a new through-block connection between Macey Avenue and St. Dunstan Drive. The site plan takes advantage of a significant grade change between the two streets to reduce the visual scale of the building from smaller, more residential arterial, St. Dunstan. The through-block path is terraced to create an easy transition between the Macey sidewalk and a new sunken patio behind the residence.

11 Macey Avenue rendering courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects
11 Macey Avenue rendering courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects

Located at Dovercourt Road and Harrison Street at the site of a former police station, 150 Harrison Street is a three-storey building that will include 44 bachelor units alongside communal and support spaces.

At 150 Harrison, the long end of the building fronts the street, with a rhythmic composition of unit windows and a trellised entrance. The site plan and orientation of the building maintains an active street edge along Dovercourt Road and ensures a leaner, friendlier frontage to the proposed public park that will occupy the neighbouring corner lot.

150 Harrison Street rendering courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects

Modules are specifically sized at 27,880 sq. ft. each. Core systems and other fixed elements, like the elevator shafts that make this housing fully accessible, are appended to the narrow sides of the building, jogging the building mass. Large windows cap each end of the corridors to bring light into the floor plate.

Among the on-site touches are Douglas fir trellises and screens, that help distinguish the ground level and create a human-scale comfortable to residents and passers-by.

Restrained colour palettes – with light grey board at Macey and darker grey board at Harrison – respond to the hues that colour their respective neighbourhoods, and allow the residences to recede into the existing residential fabric. Crimson entrance doors and similarly coloured furniture reinforce the appearance of domesticity.