Yesterday evening, hundreds from among Toronto's community of architects, landscape architects, urban designers, artists, city builders and more, came together at the Palais Royale to celebrate the winners of the biennial Toronto Urban Design Awards. The awards program recognizes those who help improve Toronto’s communities by shaping the physical environment. The City presented 20 projects with Awards of Excellence, Awards of Merit, or Special Jury Awards for Community Activation.

The last live awards event was held in 2019. This year, the awards program recognizes that urban design work must remain committed to addressing issues of accessibility, inclusivity, reconciliation, and sustainability. The awards offer an opportunity to receive city-wide recognition for outstanding design projects from an independent jury of urban visionaries, professionals and academics. Split across seven categories, 84 submissions were reviewed by a jury including Matthew Hickey, Partner at Two Row Architects; Juhee Oh, Director of Climate Strategy at Choice Properties; Michael Ormston-Holloway, Partner at The Planning Partnership, Adjunct Faculty, University of Toronto; Patrick Saavedra, Assistant Vice President, Planning & Capital Project Management, Columbia University; Gail Shillingford, Principal, B+H.

Following introductory speeches by City of Toronto Chief Planner & Executive Director of City Planning Gregg Lintern and Mayor Olivia Chow, the awards were handed out. The 2023 winners are:

 

Elements Category

Award of Merit: Plant it Forward, 144 King Street West
Project Team — Artist: John Notten

Jury Comment: Whimsical, playful, and unique are three words that describe the Plant It Forward installation, temporarily located at the south end of St. James Park. The work exuded whimsy and wheelbarrows in a unique and functional combination of garden tools, as well as plantings. The installation created a sense of place, fitting into a stretch of King Street East while sparking joy for streetcar riders and pedestrians alike. The seating structure cleverly disguised itself as a wheelbarrow race and a trellis all at once, while the plantings climbed the structure to provide shade from the southern sun. This installation extended the living space and the living vegetation of the park proper onto King Street, enticing our city to stop, sit, and smile.

Plant it forward, image by John Notten

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Award of Merit: Urban Fire Benches, Bloor Street
Project Team — Architect: Dialog, DTAH • Electrical Engineer: Mulvey & Banani

Jury Comment: It is beautiful when an element can do so many things for the public realm. Not only do we need more seating in the city, but we need seating that is more engaging, and promotes better opportunities for social interaction. These benches are designed in such a way that we can gather inwards, or gaze outwards, promoting a variety of social engagement opportunities within the vibrant Bloor Street corridor between Church and University Avenue.

Beyond the engaging seat itself, it gathers us around a tree, exploiting the benefits of the canopy overhead. The variety of leaf area provides a diversity of dappled shade throughout the corridor and a range of experiences.

This was already exciting as an urban element in the city; however, the incorporation of dynamic lighting, which can be choreographed to represent the theme of the day, brings a warmth and calmness to an otherwise frenetic street, and they invite you into them with the lights acting as beacons.

Lastly, the design incorporated some repurposed granite elements of the street that were not being used the way they were intended, and through this repurposing have found their place as granite bookends to these curved benches. A beautiful outcome that ties together different design intentions through the decades.

Urban Fire Benches, Bloor Street, image by Osvaldo Sepulveda

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Private Buildings in Context – Low Scale Category

Award of ExcellenceThe Drake Hotel Modern Wing, 1150 Queen Street West 
Project Team — Architect: Diamond Schmitt • Landscape Architect: Alexander Budrevics + Associates • Structural Engineer: Blackwell • Interior: DesignAgency, +tongtong & The Drake’s in-house team • Mechanical and Electrical: BK Consulting • Sustainability: Footprint

Jury Comment: Seamlessly sliding into the unique urban fabric of Queen Street West, the Drake Modern Wing is a perfect example of visual integration achieved by respecting the cultural and visual context of its site. This project expresses details that reveal themselves over time. With careful observation, the complex relationship between the new and the old becomes apparent through massing, materiality, and datum. The Jury specifically noted how hard it was to differentiate the “modern wing” as an addition at all.

The Drake Hotel Modern Wing, image by doublespace photography

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Award of Merit: Gusto 501, 501 King Street East 
Project Team — Architect: PARTISANS • Engineer: Blackwell Structural Engineers • MEP: BK Consulting • Masonry Engineer: PICCO Engineering

Jury Comment: Gusto 501 is one of the most beautiful restaurants in the city and is a great addition to King Street East. The transparency of the façade itself is a “billboard” for the eatery; through this transparency, the ground floor animates the street and invites you in. The massing and scale are compelling as well as compatible to the neighbouring architecture; the building blends in well yet has its own presence on the street. The oscillating façade responds well to all seasons as a result of the large-glazed ground level. Rising up, the transparent façade and dynamic interior visually activate the streetscape on, literally, multiple levels. The diaphanous ground floor allows the threshold of interior and exterior to disappear, and with that blurs the urban realm. The structure and weathering steel is in harmony with the interior materials creating a warm inviting atmosphere, enticing you to visit. The composition is simple, vibrant, and visually dynamic.

From an equity and inclusion perspective, it is at odds with the layered stair arrangement. Of note, and of high concern to the Jury, the building is not accessible beyond the ground floor.

Gusto 501, 501 King Street East, image by Nic Lehoux

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Award of MeritThe Broadview Terraces, 377 Broadview Avenue 
Project Team — Architect: Studio JCI • Blackwell Structural Engineers • Mechanical and Electrical Consultant: The Aquila Group

Jury Comment: The transformation of these properties is astounding, and the Jury would have loved to have seen images of the original façades to truly understand how this ultimate change came about. Ingeniously, this simple screen ties the three properties in a way that gives it new life while adding to the dynamism of the street. The simple moves by the design team resulted in an upgrade to the “missing middle” housing needs of the city and for this they should be applauded.

The new skin and layered façade add to a beautiful massing that fits in well with the existing context. The angled metal screens play off each other – they are well-crafted pieces that add depth to the building’s fenestration. Conversely, the layered rear compositions, with a similar colour palette, add private roof terraces for the residents, thus creating their own private oases within the service rear. The decision to retain the existing structures is the simplest sustainable approach.

The Broadview Terraces, 377 Broadview Ave, image by Scott Norsworthy

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Private Buildings in Context – Mid-Rise Category

Award of ExcellenceSummerhill Offices, 1133 Yonge Street 
Project Team — Architect: Studio JCI • Structural Engineer: WSP • Mechanical Engineer: The Aquila Group • Electrical Engineer: Scheinman Group

Jury Comment: The retrofit of the 1133 Yonge Street building successfully demonstrates the importance of reducing embodied carbon while at the same time modernizing the architectural expression from the 1980’s. In addition to notable sustainability interventions that are part of this revitalized structure, the Summerhill Offices is an exemplar of heritage conservation and transition to a contemporary era. With a new modern form, the building reflects a refreshing renewal of the heritage fabric that it is a part of and that defines this stretch of Yonge Street. It complements the adjacent railway station retrofit, together contributing to an assembly of iconic heritage assets along the street that are visibly dynamic both day and night. This building transformation is simply a beautiful example of how to capture the architectural essence of what was and bring it into a new time.

Summerhill Offices, image by Scott Norsworthy

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Award of MeritRiver Street Infill, 41 River Street 
Project Team — Architect: Studio JCI • Engineer: Atkinson + Van Groll Inc. • Mechanical Consultant: RDZ Engineers Ltd. • Civil Consultant: Cole Engineering Group Ltd. • Sustainability Consultant: ECOVERT

Jury Comment: This is a great example of affordable housing with strong sustainable aspirations. Achieving sustainability at this scale, including geothermal, is a huge commitment. It is challenging at best and the developer and design team should be applauded for this achievement on an infill project. The articulated façade is appreciated for its contribution to the street and neighbourhood. The materials are modest, simple and commensurate with this typology. As a result, the character of the street is retained. The development has been appropriately set back from the street to allow space for street trees and other complementary landscaping. The rear was a great surprise with a sense of belonging and navigates its neighbours through clever tectonic moves. The recessed balconies provide private space for the residents and the rooftop terraces, recessed from the façade, also create outdoor private spaces in a dense part of the city. This is a great example of how affordable targeted housing can elevate its sustainable responsibility and should be an example for all developers.

River Street Infill, 41 River Street, image by Michael Muraz

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Private Buildings in Context – Tall Category

Award of ExcellenceHarris Square, 21 Lawren Harris Square 
Project Team — Architect: Saucier+Perrotte Architectes & ZAS Architects and Interiors

Jury Comment: The Harris Square building is a very good example of an innovative and attractive play in massing, form, texture, and colour to achieve a good fit on a very tight site and to integrate with the surrounding public realm. The result is a building that sits as a landmark in the heart of the surrounding development and extends a light touch to the public realm at ground level. The positioning of the building provides an attractive terminus to the treed parkette to the south and lifts “off the ground” at the entry to allow for an open and comfortable front foyer space and a continuous flow of the pedestrian realm from the treed parkette to the underpass park. The standalone single building column at the entry feels like an integrated art piece within the space. The volume of the single mass building is broken up and tempered by the twisting of the upper floor levels, the lighter tone of the ground level canopy, and the yellow splash of colour of the lower floor levels.

Harris Square, image by Pureblink S+P/ZAS

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Award of Excellence81 Bay – CIBC SQUARE Phase 1, 81 Bay Street 
Project Team — Architect: WilkinsonEyre • Landscape Architect: Public Work • Planning Consultant: Urban Strategies Inc. • Architect of Record: Adamson Associates Architects

Jury Comment: This is a beautiful, refined tower; it is a sharp and bold addition to the city’s skyline. Everything about the CIBC Square building is attractive and engaging, from the unique architectural design to the integration of art, the sensitivity to quality furnishing and landscape detail, and the experiential elements of surprise in the different interior and exterior spaces.

81 Bay – CIBC SQUARE Phase 1, image by Sierra Curtis Photography

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Award of MeritAce Hotel Toronto, 51 Camden Street 
Project Team — Shim-Sutcliffe Architects • Interior Architecture: Shim-Sutcliffe Architects in collaboration with Atelier Ace • Landscape Architect: NAK Design Strategies •Planning Team: Bousfield Inc. and Stikeman Elliot • Structural Engineer: RJC Engineers • Civil Engineer: Cole Engineering • MEP: MCW Consultants Ltd. • Construction Manager: Alterra Construction Management Ltd. • Hotel Management: Ace Hotel Group

Jury Comment: Every great square needs a great hotel to anchor it, and the Ace is the one to do it in this neighbourhood. The building’s massing and materiality tie into the context of the west Fashion District and establishes a strong architectural expression on this hidden yet important corner.

This is a well-crafted “brickworks” project that contributes to the quality of the block. The building does a lot for the fabric of the city and the nearby park. The materials at-grade are substantial, and the structural elements are delicate and iconoclastic. It is refreshing to see a deliberate approach to the history of the neighbourhood through the colour and choice of the materials, which is the obvious focus of the composition and the basis for the design. There is a warmth to the ground level of this project. This project digs deeply into how it fits into the layers of history and thus responds accordingly with an elegant architecture. The glazed ground façade brings the park inward, extending the interior lounge to the city.

Ace Hotel Toronto, 51 Camden Street, image by Scott Norsworthy

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Public Buildings in Context Category

Award of Excellence: Tommy Thompson Entrance and Pavilion, 3 Leslie Street 
Project Team — Architect: DTAH Architects Limited • Landscape Architect: DTAH • Structural Engineer: Faet Lab • Electrical and Mechanical Engineer: Thomas A. Fakete Limited •Civil and Stormwater Management Engineering: SCS Consulting Group Ltd. •Ecology: North-South Environmental

Jury Comment: Design is often best when it does not try to do more than it needs to. This project met the Jury with this expression: a beautiful building; scaled appropriately; built from appropriate materials; and detailed with the evolution of the site in mind. Despite its modern stature, expressive rooflines, and generally some contemporary notes, this building feels like something that might have always been here, with materials pulled from just underneath the surface, and beautiful gabion baskets to reinforce them. Simple; refined; elegant.

Tommy Thompson Entrance and Pavilion, image by Scott Norsworthy

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Award of Excellence: Scott Street Interlocking Signal Tower Generator, Union Station Rail Corridor 
Project Team — RDH Architects (RDHA) • Structural Engineer: Entuitive • Mechanical & Electrical: Smith + Andersen

Jury Comment: The newly added infrastructure enclosure is well thought out and balances the historic Scott Street interlocking signal tower. It is carefully designed to honour the historic building, while turning a functional engineering requirement into a beautiful architectural and sculptural expression at a location that could have been easily ignored. The level of detail shown in this project, including the reveal space between the old and new structures, demonstrates a sensitivity that is often overlooked for public infrastructure within the city’s urban context.

Scott Street Interlocking Signal Tower Generator, image by Tom Arban

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Award of Excellence: Wychwood Neighbourhood Branch Library restoration and addition, 1431 Bathurst Street 
Project Team — Shoalts & Zaback Architects Ltd.• Landscape Architect: The Scott Wentworth Landscape Group Ltd. • Engineer: H.H. Angus & Associates Ltd. • Heritage Consultant and Collaborating Architect: Philip Goldsmith Architect • Structural Engineer: RJC • Civil Engineer: Josselyn Engineering

Jury Comment: The design of the public realm brings the old and new built form together by creating a cohesive context, using a simple palette of quality hard and softscape materials that are complementary to both building styles. The neutral colour and materiality of the hardscape is continuous to the base of the heritage building, which helps to ground the building in place and create a sense of calm ground plane. Even the choice of plant material is well thought through, using red maples that provide a green contrast in the summer and are a complementary to the building in the fall, together with a simple mass planting of purple flowering sage adjacent to seating which creates a welcoming visual and sensual experience for those using the front plaza. The public realm along the adjacent side street is planted with linden trees which will achieve a canopied gateway that is additive to a very green neighbourhood. The rear of the building provides an element of surprise in which the hipped roof tower form and stack of the heritage building is remarkedly framed and accentuated by the grey stone and structure of the new built form.

Wychwood Neighbourhood Branch Library restoration and addition, image by Doublespace Photography

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Small Open Spaces Category

Award of Excellence: Bloor-Annex BIA Parkettes, 320 Robert Street, 290 Major Street, 306 Brunswick Avenue, and 2 Howland Avenue 
Project Team — Landscape Architect: DTAH • Artist: Robert Cram

Jury Comment: There are beautiful details in this project worthy of noting as well, and these subtle moments were appreciated by the Jury. The bike rings designed by students; the public process of the murals; the targeting of quarry offcuts, to purpose an element otherwise destined for discarding, giving home and purpose to an otherwise unvalued material; and the timbers, having originated from Honest Ed’s, being repurposed as passive elements of our public realm, geared now toward pedestrian comfort, and taking pause on the otherwise vibrant is also a thoughtful detail that the Jury appreciated.

This project was appreciated simply for what it is, and what it is doing for the public realm, but these little details, and some of those thoughtful moments, collectively are what made this project award worthy.

Bloor-Annex BIA Parkettes, image by Scott Norsworthy

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Award of Merit:  Stackt Market, 28 Bathurst Street 
Project Team — LGA Architectural Partners • Landscape Architect: North Design Office • Structural Engineer: Blackwell • Mechanical Engineer: Hidi • Planner, Transportation: MHBC • Civil: Crozier • Shipping Container: Giant

Jury Comment: So often, we as designers over-program space to a point where it starts to exclude users, becoming stagnant and of its time. The success of the Stackt Market has been its ability to evolve and change since its inception; it continues to do so as use and program demands shift. This may be attributed to the fact that the market is deemed temporary, which provides the luxury as well as ease of change and adaptation until it is dismantled. The success of the market is also enabled by the level of flexibility and adaptability in the design of space and use.

It is a fresh new concept for Toronto, in which sustainability – the retrofitting of containers – is the driver behind the creation of a new city destination that has grown beyond the concept of a market. It has become an iconic artform, an animator of a once derelict place, and a unique public space to simply come and enjoy. It has become a political statement, an initiative that challenges our approach to design and city policy. It is one that calls for a resurgence of spontaneity and design innovation unincumbered by restriction that simply allows a space to grow and evolve as the citywide community grows and evolves.

Stackt Market, 28 Bathurst Street, image by Industryous Photography

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Large Places and/or Neighbourhood Designs Category

Award of Excellence: RendezViews, 229 Richmond Street West 
Project Team — Architect: Oliver Geddes, The Fifth Group • Artist: Bruno Smoky + Shalak Attack

Jury Comment: This simple and colourful installation of picnic tables and paint has transformed, on a granular level, a left-over parking lot in the core of Toronto in a way that is unexpected. RendezViews exemplifies what can be achieved when we prioritize spaces for people to gather on the sidewalk level through minimal design.

This is a perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and that we do not have to do everything everywhere. The vivid tonality of this project, and the fundamental ideas of slowing, sitting, and appreciating is something that we need more of in Toronto. This project is stunning; its vibrancy and simplicity supports this.

RendezViews, image by Curtis Messam

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Visions and Master Plans Category

Award of ExcellenceDownsview Framework Plan, Downsview Airfield Toronto 
Project Team — Architect: Henning Larsen (urban design); KPMB Architects (architecture); Urban Strategies Inc. (planning) • Landscape Architect: SLA • Engineer: Transsolar, Ramboll, Purpose Building, BA Group, Monumental Projects Inc • Public Engagement: Third Party Public, Dept of Words and Deeds

Jury Comment: This is truly an extremely inspirational project. If built as envisioned, it could reset how larger tracts of land can be comprehensively designed around resiliency and climate change. The approach is sophisticated with its layers of systems that each relate to the other, while contributing to the larger whole. The nature focused “green spine” will bring the community together, offering a unique dedicated pedestrian open space. It has the potential to be the “highline” at grade. Our hope is the future interventions, and that implementation is commensurate with the framework, with quality architecture, and dynamic landscapes thus resulting in a rich urban neighbourhood. The key to the success of the site will be for developers and the like to be strongly kept to the principles, goals and vision of the site.

Downsview Framework Plan, image by the Downsview Framework Plan project team

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Student Projects Category

Award of Merit:  Building in the ‘JUNKSPACE,’ Parliament Street and Lake Shore Boulevard intersection
Project Team — Tess Macpherson, Kavita Garg

Jury Comment: The student project Building in the ‘Junkspace’ is an exercise in thinking through the various applications of sustainability – both in built materials and landscape interventions. This is a celebration of sustainable initiatives and interventions, looking at ways in which to recycle material, create art form, reduce carbon impacts to the environment, create both innovative and accessible interior and exterior useable space, increase biodiversity, and educate and increase awareness of the current state of our planet.

While the graphics on this project are impressive, it is the idea expressed here that has warranted the student award. We do not expect, or even want students too hung up on the impediments of urban design, or too focussed on pricing. What we want our students doing is getting excited about design; pushing the envelope on their ideas and beginning a commentary on the current nature of design and the priorities we promote in our profession. Fresh eyes are valuable tools and encourage less biased conversations.

Building in the ‘JUNKSPACE’, image by Tess Macpherson and Kavita Garg

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SPECIAL JURY AWARD FOR COMMUNITY ACTIVATION

Award of Merit: The Oculus Revitalization, South Humber Park, 120 The Queensway 
Project Team — Co-Lead: Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Toronto Branch (non-profit co-lead) • Architect: Giaimo

Jury Comment: Selected as a Special Jury award due to its unique and strong community commitment to its revitalization, the Oculus is a landmark that we are happy to have restored and persevere as part of our urban landscape. This restoration and preservation project was initiated by strong community action. The restoration of the structure itself from the original concrete, stone, and steel pavilion is a testament to its durability of construction and longevity of the simple yet powerful design. As a marker of the built heritage of Toronto, losing this structure would have been an irreplaceable loss for our city. This is a heartwarming initiative that we are recognizing and a clear reminder of the power of infrastructure and the impact it can have on the urban environment. The Jury applauded the grassroots efforts of the community and their engagement to maintain the architectural heritage of this city.

The Oculus Revitalization, image by Doublespace Photography

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Award of Merit: plazaPOPS: Albion Islington Squares, 2655 Islington Avenue, 2627 Islington Avenue, 979 Albion Road, and 950 Albion Road 
Project Team —Landscape Architect: ERA Architects • Artist: Magic F WonG (Street Mural) • Others: Albion Islington Square BIA, Rexdale Hub, University of Guelph Landscape Architecture, plazaPOPS

Jury Comment: We live in a constantly changing city; evolving with thoughtful urban design over time, bending to best practices of the current paradigm, and trying to achieve multiple goals. Sometimes though, we have a space that is either underutilized, programmed for only part of the day or week, or is in a planning or approval cycle that will take time. Toronto needs more projects that can repurpose our urban spaces to make better use of them and are scaled, as well as programmed, to the specific needs of the neighbourhood.

The plazaPOPS project seems to do all of the above. It does so in a thoughtful way, that sets a good example for the city. We need more spaces that act like this, and we need more designers promoting temporary uses of spaces. Beyond that, there is something whimsical, playful, and vibrant about the design of this space. So, while the idea is award-worthy already, it is the specific execution here of design elements and expressiveness that added up to an award for this exciting, temporary project. We look forward to seeing it live on and be redeployed in other urban neighbourhoods.

plazaPOPS: Albion Islington Squares, image by Tupac Espinoza, Duane Cole

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More information on the Toronto Urban Design Awards, the jury report, photos and full project credits for each winning submission are available on the City’s Toronto Urban Design Awards webpage.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.

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