The master-planned community is a development strategy that has seen a notable rise in use in recent years, particularly in suburban pockets of the GTA, for its efficiency as a method to quickly create dense urban centres on larger pockets where the land-use is transitioning. In order for these communities to thrive though, it requires more than simply dropping a collection of towers down on a site. As city dwellers, we know as well as anyone that a vibrant community is about people. This is how NAK Design Strategies began their urban and landscape design for the proposed Auto Complex project in Vaughan. 

Located at 7200 Yonge Street, just north of Steeles Avenue, the proposal contemplates the redevelopment of an 18-acre industrial site with a holistically-designed complete community. Working with architects Graziani + Corazza Architects, Gatzios Planning + Development Consultants, and WSP, the team began the design for the project at the pedestrian level and built it up from there, ultimately conceiving a master-plan that encompasses a public park, seven towers, a block of mid-rises, and two blocks of townhomes that would effectively deliver 4,840 new mixed-typology units. 

Looking northeast at the design of the master-planned Auto Complex community, image courtesy of Graziani + Corazza Architects

For NAK, the project represents the positive outcomes that are created when landscape and urban design informs the development of a community plan from the beginning. After decades in the industry, they have learned that when developments are structured around elements such as the public realm, parks, transportation systems, with the motivation to create a true sense of place, they are able to achieve more balanced, engaging and sustainable communities.

One of the foundational elements for the design of Auto Complex is its circulation plan. How people, bicycles, and vehicles will move through the space, how residents will get to where they are going, and how the public will utilize the new connections were all questions that NAK pondered in their design evolution. The focus was making navigation throughout the site intuitive, and creating a network of walkways that was both porous and inviting for pedestrians inside and out. 

Circulation plan for Auto Complex shows thoughtfully planned pedestrian connections, image courtesy of NAK Design Strategies

The results of this effort are best seen along the project’s eastern limit, which benefits from a nearly 200 metre frontage along Yonge Street. What could have happened was the creation of a continuous streetwall, programmed heavily with retail in an effort to capitalize on foot traffic. Instead, NAK viewed this frontage as the primary entry point for the public, and created five different walkways that would connect the development’s internal circulation network directly to Yonge Street. Taking it a step further, the design encourages public use of these connections by programming them with thoughtful landscape design, and activating the sightlines to a central park through the spacing and sculpting of the buildings. 

Looking west at the development's porous Yonge Street frontage, image courtesy of Graziani + Corazza Architects

The focal-point 2.3 acre park is a result of NAK’s aim to create a livable and intuitively laid out community. Situated near the centre of the development, all streets lead to the park, which will serve as the primary gathering space with an active outdoor recreation focus. The park is able to provide this emphasis because of the wealth of green spaces throughout the development that offer high-quality outdoor space for ‘passive’ uses like strolling, socializing, and reading.  

The public park is the anchor of the community, enjoying an area of over 2-acres, image courtesy of Graziani + Corazza Architects

NAK’s involvement in the early design stages of the complex led to the strategic siting of the buildings. With an existing low-rise neighbourhood to the west and a major arterial road to the east, there was a need to balance these challenging interface conditions, and the solution was clear: mixed-typologies.

Through the incorporation of townhouses, mid-rise, and high-rise components, Auto Complex is able to deliver its target density while responding thoughtfully to the neighbouring community through an appropriate height transition that also mitigates shadow impacts. Scaling upwards as it moves east, the built form peaks at the corner of Yonge Street and a new east-west access street along the north side of the site (Public Road A on the maps), where 55-storey towers are more contextually fitting. 

Site Plan shows the height and siting of all buildings at Auto Complex, image courtesy of NAK Design Strategies

Auto Complex was submitted to the City of Vaughan last summer with applications for Zoning Bylaw Amendment, Official Plan Amendment, and Subdivision Approval.  The extensive framework created by NAK and team has garnered support from the local community, as well as the municipality, and is primed to move forward in the process.

UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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Related Companies:  Gradient Wind Engineers & Scientists, Graziani + Corazza Architects, NAK Design Strategies