One of the final pieces of the puzzle for Toronto's CityPlace neighbourhood is working its way through the planning process, as a new community and education centre is proposed for the vacant Block 31, immediately east of Canoe Landing Park. Designed by ZAS Architects, the complex is comprised of two elementary schools, a daycare, and a community centre housed in two structures and a series of outdoor spaces. The project made its second appearance at Toronto's Design Review Panel (DRP) on July 5th with some major improvements from its earlier review, the comments from which can be found in a previous article, here.

Site plan of Canoe Landing Park and Block 31, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

One of the major criticisms from the last DRP appearance revolved around the architectural expression of the building, as it was described as being too complex and not cohesive. The two structures were conceived as 'pavilions in the park', designed as raised landscapes that were meant to blend with their environment, incorporating green roofs and integrative landscaping. But Panel members had argued that the buildings did not quite fit this description as they appeared, and spoke very different languages on each of their facades. Much to the Panelists' delight, the architecture of the buildings was simplified this time around for a cleaner expression that is much more coherent.

View looking east from Canoe Landing Park, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The buildings now clearly convey the idea of elevated landscapes, under which is sheltered the programmatic elements. They retain their overall massing from the previous iteration, but have been refined to appear more consistent and inviting. 

Rendering looking west along Fort York Boulevard, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Simple solid extrusions and volumes serve to break up the scale of the three-storey glass elevations, while the protruding fascia of the building still retains its angular geologic forms. The buildings appear much lighter and simpler than their more imposing predecessors. 

South elevation of the community centre, as seen from the passage between the buildings, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The elevations of the two buildings have been smoothed down to a glass and metal curtain wall with splashes of red to match the wood soffit, doing away with the previous black faceted facade reminiscent of a rock face. The red portions of the curtain wall will be composite aluminum panels with a brushed stainless steel finish, allowing their vibrancy and appearance to change according to the position of the sun.

North elevation, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

East elevation, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

South elevation, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

West elevation, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The relationship of the buildings to the street was also improved, with a slight change in elevation bringing the ground floor closer to the level of grade. Previously, pedestrians on the sidewalk of Brunel Court had a view into the classrooms of students' feet, whereas the ground floor level has been lowered so that pedestrians are now at eye level with a seated person within the classroom.

Section along part of Brunel Court showing relationship between building and street, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Furthermore, the main entrances to the building, previously criticized as being hard to find, have now been emphasized with simple extrusions from the facade clad in cor-ten steel, continuing the red motif of the complex.

Close-up of the north entrance to the community centre, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The new development is notable for its complex program and mix of spaces, some of which are shared between the schools, day care, and community centre. Panel members commended designers for their organization of spaces within the buildings, and for successfully navigating the complicated relationships between the programs into one cohesive development.

Ground floor plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

A distinctive feature of the community centre is its accessible green roof, with programmatic elements such as a basketball court and a running track included on top. The designers realized that—being at the centre of CityPlace and consequently surrounded by towers—the roofs of these two buildings would be highly visible, and so needed to be treated as a fifth elevation. Panelists were enamoured by the landscaped roof, but pushed the designers even further to refine the relationship between the roof elements and the surrounding angular roofscape, which currently has a distinct flow that is interrupted by the courts, terrace, and running track.

View looking south over the roofscape, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Sustainability was also highlighted as an improvement from the previous presentation, with the proposal now achieving Tier 2 of the Toronto Green Standard and more than 30% in energy savings.

The landscaping, overseen by The Planning Partnership, is an important feature of the project that was highlighted at the previous DRP. A series of 'outdoor rooms' defines the play areas for the junior students, senior students, and day care. The selection of plant species throughout the site was chosen so as to be a 'living landscape' that students can learn from, showcasing the variety of natural habitats that appear across Ontario. Planters appear around the elevations of the buildings to mitigate the relationship between the building and the street, and to act as barriers to divide spaces around the site. Further refinements were made to these landscape elements from the previous DRP presentation, and Panel members gave a solid thumbs up to the evolution of the design.

Landscape plan showing different tree species, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Diagram showing program of the 'outdoor rooms', image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Overall, Panel members were thoroughly impressed with the proposal and praised many aspects of it. With suggestions for a few minor tweaks and some further refinement of design details, Panelists voted unanimously—and enthusiastically—in support of the project.

Rendering looking west between the two structures from Brunel Court, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

We will keep you posted as more updates appear about this exciting proposal. In the meantime, you can find renderings of the previous revision in our dataBase file, linked below. If you'd like to talk about it, you can get in on the discussion by checking out our associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  City of Toronto, Concord Adex, Douglas Coupland, MGI Construction Corp., PFS Studio, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, The Planning Partnership, ZAS Architects