Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto

PROJECT Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario
ARCHITECT Shim-Sutcliffe Architects Inc.
PHOTOS James Dow, Bob Gundu and Positive Imaging

Forming a sinuous line between the Don Valley to the north and the low-rise urban fabric of the city to the south, this new home for the Sisters of St. Joseph articulates both individual contemplative life and the community engagement of the Sisters’ ministries, making relationships to nature and the city to reinforce public and private aspects. These dualities are articulated both in the exterior of the building and the spaces within.

The program includes 58 residential suites accommodating a variety of levels of care, from independent living to long-term care, nursing stations and associated requirements–chapel, dining and kitchen facilities, meeting spaces and community rooms. Private rooms are organized along single-loaded corridors with suites facing the landscape and light-filled hallways looking out to the city. The main communal spaces are located on the ground floor with easy adjacencies to facilitate community spirit. 

Upon entering, one is immediately aware of the thinness of the building and the views of the landscape beyond. Looking through the lobby, the glazed organically shaped chapel sits in a reflecting pool and forms the spiritual and physical centre of the building. The chapel is clearly visible from the entry and its glass construction serves as a counterform to the brick “body” of the main building. Reflected light from the exterior pool washes across the oak fins, filling the chapel with an ever-changing quality of light throughout the day. The adjacent lobby sitting area and dining space are all interconnected to form comfortable areas for communal gathering.

The project aspires to a high level of sustainability for ethical reasons. This includes geothermal for heating and cooling, solar preheat for domestic hot water, photovoltaic panels, green roofs, high-quality building envelope, bioswales, naturalized landscape, and permeable paving. In addition, much attention was placed on the residents’ sense of control over their individual environment. This was facilitated by providing cross-ventilation between operable exterior windows and suite windows to the hall. These windows, coupled with individual heat pumps, give the occupants a high degree of personal control over their physical environment.

The landscaping for the project mediates between the restored forest of the ravine, the building and the city. Corten steel retainers, pathways, decks and green tile walls act as organic architectural transitional elements while indigenous plant materials are used throughout to create meadows between the ravine and the building with meandering barrier-free pathways. The experience of the landscape from within and outside the building, along with the building’s relationship to the city, creates a place that is simultaneously contemplative and connected to city life. 

Jury This project shines for the care that was brought in creating a loving environment for the elderly. The progression of public to private living spaces is underscored by the transition from urban to natural setting, along a narrow site on the edge of a ravine. The choice of materials and the careful attention to detail further add to the notion of this being a life-supporting environment, in the most profound sense of the term. CA

Client Sisters of Saint Joseph of Toronto | Architect Team Brigitte Shim, Howard Sutcliffe, James Chavel, Amy Lin, Andrew Hart, Olga Pushkar, Anne Miller, Carla Munoz, Jordan Winters, Amber Foo, Eiri Ota | Structural Blackwell Structural Engineers | Mechanical/Electrical Crossey Engineering Ltd. | Building Envelope R.A. Heintges & Associates | Sustainability Dr. Ted Kesik | Heritage ERA Architects | Landscape NAK Design Group | Contractor Eastern Construction | Area 90,000 ft2 | Budget withheld | Completion April 2013