On a rainy Saturday morning, around 30 students and young professionals gathered at the corner of Bathurst and Fort York to begin a walking tour that kicked off the 5th Annual ACO NextGen Design Charrette, a day-long event catered to future designers focusing on the adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of some of Toronto's under-appreciated urban spaces. This year's charrette honed in on the Wellington Destructor, the long-abandoned garbage incinerator constructed in 1925 that lies hidden away on Wellington Street west of Bathurst and just south of Stanley Park. The event was held in partnership with Fort York National Historic Site, which hosted the charrette.

Participants of the walking tour, with the Wellington Destructor in the background, image by Julian Mirabelli.

The Wellington Destructor is of particular interest due to a planning study conducted by the City in 2014 that identified the site as having a high potential for adaptive reuse, much like the previously successful initiatives of the Wychwood Barns and Evergreen Brickworks. The City is currently in the process of cleaning out and structurally stabilizing the Destructor.

Interior of the Wellington Destructor, image courtesy of ACO NextGen.

The walking tour was led by Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator of the City of Toronto's Museums & Heritage Services, who highlighted the complicated history of the neighbourhood and context within which the Destructor lies. Located where Garrison Creek met Lake Ontario, the area dates back to the original fortifications of York, where it has since transformed from a military reserve, to a residential area, to a heavy industrial neighbourhood, following the construction and expansion of the railway. The last vestiges of the industrial era disappeared with the closing of Quality Meat Packers in 2014, the century-old abattoirs located adjacent to the Destructor site.

View of the Wellington Destructor, image by Julian Mirabelli.

Following the walking tour, an inspiring lecture by Megan Torza, partner at DTAH, highlighted the firm's previous experience with adaptive reuse at the Wychwood Barns and Evergreen Brickworks, and stressed the importance of these types of initiatives for the development of the city.

The participants were then divided into five groups and set off to work putting together a plan for the defunct Destructor. The resulting proposals highlighted potential uses for the building, with ideas ranging from an event venue, a market, artists' studios and shops, restaurants, office spaces, and small industrial crafts. Designers played heavily on the unique concrete ramp leading up to the second floor, and proposals alternated between having the main functions located on the ground and second level. The large double-height rooms and mezzanines existing in the building provided fertile ground for mixing programs and creating monumental spaces.

Participants working in teams on a proposal for the Destructor, image by Julian Mirabelli.

The unique history of the building led to some interesting proposed uses. One team presented a program revolving around 'stuff'—playing on the junky nature of the building's former use—in which a trading zone or tool library for the local community would be hosted in the structure. Included in the program would be an annual ritual in which the community would gather to throw their unwanted things into the double-height 'pits', symbolically referencing the former dumping of garbage from the carts and trucks into the space below. The objects would then be reused either in the tool library for community access, or as material for 'garbage art', where artists can use the discarded objects as a medium for their work.

Participants presenting their proposal to the panel, image by Julian Mirabelli.

The surrounding area and landscape also played heavily into the proposals, with connections made to the vacant lot next door (currently slated to become a southern extension of Stanley Park) that can be used as complementary programming to the Destructor, and to the former Garrison Creek that runs underground in a culvert directly adjacent to the building. One team even proposed opening up the culvert to give visitors a glimpse of the rushing waters below.

The presentations at the end of the charrette, image by Julian Mirabelli.

The results of the charrette were presented to a multi-disciplinary panel consisting of local prominent heritage professionals, designers, and media personnel. The winning proposal that was selected pitched the idea of traditional industrial crafts, such as blacksmithing, introduced into the building with communal and private workspaces provided for craftsmen and community members alike, who can participate, spectate, and learn about the trades in a nod to the area's industrial past.

The winning team presenting their proposal, image by Julian Mirabelli.

The variety of programs and physical interventions proposed during the charrette highlighted the great potential of the Wellington Destructor and the many possibilities for its eventual adaptive reuse. While its future is still uncertain, speculation is definitely heating up around the derelict structure, as Toronto looks for its next great industrial giant to resurrect in this post-industrial age.