Following its approval in principle back in 2013, plans will soon be put in motion for the redevelopment of Seaton House, Toronto's largest men's emergency shelter. An aging and overburdened facility located on George Street in the city's Garden District, plans call for the 7,788 m² municipally-owned site—currently providing 634 beds—to be replaced with a new block-long nine-storey facility containing a range of uses, including 378 long-term care beds, 130 transitional living beds, 100 emergency shelter beds, 21 affordable housing rental units, and a 4,000 m² community service hub.
The design contract for the project was awarded to the team of Montgomery Sisam Architects and Hilditch Architect in 2015, with Goldsmith Borgal and Company Architects serving as heritage architect. The new building will replace the existing shelter facility, while incorporating the eight properties south of the current shelter, and one former schoolhouse building to the north. Six of the nine properties are designated heritage buildings, which were all constructed between 1856 and 1909. Of the six properties—the former Fegan Boy’s Home at 295 George Street, houses at 297, 305, 309 and 311 George Street, and the former Allan Public School House at 349 George Street—five are currently vacant.
Plans for the shelter's revitalization are longstanding, though the nine-property site assembly has proven a complex undertaking for the City. In 2009, the City's advanced similar a redevelopment plan—designed by Kearns Mancini Architects—for the same 10-property site. However, a disagreement with development partners and site property owners Spike Capital delayed the plans. Since then, the City has moved to buy all eight of the properties south of the existing shelter, with the first five purchased in 2014. Owned by Spike Capital, the three remaining derelict homes proved more difficult to acquire, necessitating an expropriation process that began in 2015, following City Council approval.
Meanwhile, the original shelter at 339 George Street—which opened on January 7, 1959 and was designed by the Department of Buildings—is not listed as a heritage property. Although the building is a good example of the architecture of that era, interior deterioration, restrictive layouts, and aging building services have made preservation an uneconomical option. In addition, crime problems in the area are being partially attributed to the shelter’s level of density and poorly-planned public realm, as outlined in a Heritage Impact Assessment document prepared by Goldsmith Borgal & Company.
The new replacement building would reach a height of 37 metres. While an existing by-law currently limits building heights on the site to a maximum of 12 metres, this predates the site’s designation as a “Tall Building location.” Massing of the new structure has been carefully formulated to provide an appropriate transition between low-rise housing to the east, north, and south of the site with existing and future tall building sites to the west.
A total of 47,237 m² of floor area would be included across the 9 levels, consisting of 46,135 m² of non-residential area and 1,102 m² of residential space. The development will be constructed with a number of built-in sustainability measures, meeting Tier 2 of the Toronto Green Standard, and targeting LEED Silver Certification. Architectural plans outlining the development detail a list of cladding materials to be used on the exterior of the building, including architectural louvers, brick masonry, curtain wall glazing, metal flashing, stone cladding, and terra cotta screens.
A series of gathering spaces will be integrated into the development, including two courtyard spaces within the long-term care component, offering tables and chairs for residents and visitors. One courtyard will be an enclosed, naturally-lit winter garden capable of hosting programmed events and horticulture, while the larger second courtyard will be open to elements, and will feature a skylight that allows natural lighting to filter down to the floors below. A walled garden space will be included at the south end of the building, serving the residents of the Emergency Shelter component and doubling as a buffer between the building and rear laneway. One notable element in this walled garden will be its use of reclaimed brick salvaged from one of the heritage buildings on site. A separate space known as the Contemplative Garden will also be housed within the emergency shelter component, featuring a living wall along the north side of the Emergency Shelter program’s elevator shaft and ample natural light.
Additional outdoor spaces will come in the form of terraces and decks, including an indoor terrace on each floor along the east façade of the long-term care component, outdoor decks on each Transitional Living residential floor, and an indoor and outdoor smoking area on the top floor of the building.
We will return as more news about the project materializes. In the meantime, additional information and images can be found in our dataBase file for the project, linked below. A more complete look at the history of the redevelopment plan—and the controversy surrounding the reduction of shelter spaces—is also available in our previous editorial. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment using the field provided at the bottom of this page.