Toronto architects present alternative design vision for The Foundry

Imagine… An urban oasis that is safe, enlightening and engaging. A dynamic open space for festivals, performances, and celebrations big and small. A hub for activities for children, adults, and families all year round. A creative incubator and a place to network, exchange ideas and make connections. A place that promotes health and wellbeing, and A home and a community to many from all walks of life. 

The demolition that started on January 18th caught many by surprise. There was no warning, no public notice of any sort. It came out of nowhere. Rightfully so, there was community outrage. The local residents, business owners, curious onlookers showed up and asked the demolition crew what was going on, but it was obvious what was about to happen.
On January 21st, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association filed a notice of injunction to halt the demolition work against the Province, the property owner. A judicial order was put in place to stop the demolition, at least until the end of February. The Province responded by saying that it was “disappointing that the City of Toronto is slowing down environmental remediation, and the construction of new much-needed affordable housing and community space in the West Don Lands” (1). The Province also stated that it agreed to pause the demolition as a “good faith gesture” (2) towards the City.

There is no question that our city desperately needs affordable housing and well-designed community spaces. We are also citizens of a democratic society where the dialogue process is (or at least expected to be) transparent, collaborative, and engaging—especially when it comes to building infrastructures, housing, and community spaces that require multi-level government and public members quorum.

There are two streams of significant concern:

1) The Foundry (Dominion Wheel & Foundries Ltd. Manufacturing Complex), comprising multiple buildings built in 1917 and expanded through 1929, has been part of the City’s heritage registry since 2004. Beautiful red bricks, restrained classical detailing, and wonderful windows of various scales all contribute to the cultural and architectural richness of the early 20th century structures.
2) As design professionals—architects, urban planners, city makers—and most importantly, as members of the public—we have a great appreciation for the due-diligence process put into planning and development at the municipality level for all projects. The process is transparent and collaborative. It is a public forum where we discuss opportunities and challenges and assert our collective will to come up with the right, creative response. This due-diligence process was absent.

International Resource Centre for Performing Artists (IRCPA) and Corktown Residents and Business Association (CRBA) have been quietly working on a joint initiative. They engaged various design and planning professionals to develop an alternative vision for adaptively reusing the existing structures. Jonathan Kearns, Principal and CEO of Kearns Mancini Architects Inc., led the design sessions that culminated in a holistic vision for placemaking.

The vision for the initiative is not complicated.

Let’s repurpose these wonderful historic buildings and let them (re)generate the site into a vibrant centre for musicians and artists, and a safe inclusive residential and community use for the diverse communities of the Corktown neighbourhood.

A Walkable Neighbourhood

The overarching design principle prioritizes a neighbourhood concept that is visually and physically porous throughout the site. It promotes spatial interplays between the new and the old, inside and outside, lanes and gallerias. A series of pedestrian routes, varying in scale, provides effortless navigation, experience, and leads to gardens and courtyards for  formal and informal use.
The Old and The New 

The coexistence of new buildings and heritage buildings requires the right scale and sensitivity. It is not about new design being sympathetic, but about it working with and strengthening the visual cues, architectural expression, contextual references, and material detailing that can enhance the juxtaposition of the old and the new. Rather than a stand-alone group of high-rises or supertall towers, we propose that three mid-rise residential buildings with a deep focus on affordable housing can be woven onto the campus. This would enhance the presence of the heritage buildings and elevate the standards of high-performance, through science-based Passive House design.

For the Community

Mixed-use buildings? We believe that the Foundry is a mixed-use community. It has heritage buildings that can be adapted and imagined as galleries, venues, retail ventures, and performance spaces. Multipurpose spaces that can be used for community gatherings, networking events, exhibitions. And outdoor gardens and courtyards for music festivals, buskers, and markets—all envisioned to enhance the community wellbeing of the tenants, residents, and visitors from all walks of life.

We see the Foundry as a new paradigm for adaptive reuse and place-making. Through its singular vision to create a sense of belonging, ownership and pride that come from a seamless and inclusive mix of open space, affordable housing, purpose-built rentals, and perhaps condominiums, the Foundry can contribute meaningfully to the cultural and architectural richness well into the 21st century and beyond.

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said, “We can do both — preserve these beautiful, stately heritage buildings and repurpose them for the 21st century, with modern amenities, with community spaces, with deeply affordable housing, and perhaps, mixed-use condominiums. All of that is possible. ” (3)

It is possible. Let’s just use our imaginations.

(1), (2), (3)

Design Team: Architect – Jonathan Kearns (Kearns Mancini Architects Inc.)
Architectural Designer – Mateusz Nowacki Urban Planner – Josh Reiniger
Project Manager – Larry Webb