Eva's Phoenix: Youth Transitional Housing, Education & Skills Centre
LGA Architectural Partners
Dean Goodman / LGA Architectural Partners
Blackwell Structural Engineers (Structural Engineer) LAM & Associates (M&E Engineer) E.R.A. (Heritage Consultant) Scott Torrance Landscape Architect (Landscape Architect) Fabian Papa & Partners (Civil Engineer) David Hine Engineering (Code Consultant) Aercoustics (Acoustic Consultant) Colliers Project Leaders (Project Manager)
By using a youth shelter as the redevelopment catalyst for a heritage block in a densifying and gentrifying neighbourhood, the City of Toronto makes a courageous statement about inclusivity, equality and the projected urban future. This project is a neighbourhood within a building, and it raises the bar for safe, uplifting and boldly non-institutional supportive housing. With its layering of private bedrooms, communal living areas within each townhouse, and the more widely social space of the interior main street, the architecture allows Eva’s residents (ages 16-24) to become part of the community at their own pace. Similarly, carefully calibrated circulation was deployed to control access between resident, staff-only, public, and drop-in program areas. By interconnecting spaces for visibility and audibility, eliminating closed corridors, and carefully sequencing thresholds throughout, the architecture breaks from convention to better support residents, who arrive from unique circumstances and can live at Eva’s Phoenix for up to one year as they transition out of homelessness to independent living. While safer and more appropriate for Eva’s, the architecture challenges code and involved working closely with the City from the outset to devise compliance alternatives. It was necessary, for example, to demonstrate that the interior’s highly articulated forms and new skylights succeeded in overcoming the existing building’s deep floor plate and limited exposures, and would make it possible to achieve required daylight levels in spaces lacking exterior windows. Formulating fire rating and exit design solutions for this repurposed, heritage-designated building was also a complex, consultative process.
A neighbourhood within a building, Eva’s is a 50-bed youth transitional housing, education and skills training centre that includes offices, counselling areas, classrooms, a teaching kitchen, and a workshop. In the new basement, a full-service commercial print shop provides employment opportunities. Stitching together disparate parts of a heritage-designated former waterworks, the design is organized around an expansive, spatially layered atrium awash in daylight. Ten ‘houses’ activate this main street with sheltered entries, ground-level common areas rising to overlooking second-level private bedrooms, and ‘roof-top’ support and counselling space. This is the second Eva’s Phoenix: we also designed the first, in 2000. The Client and the City of Toronto asked us to design the successor space when condominium development forced Eva’s to move. The new Eva’s kicks off a block-encompassing redevelopment that will include a food hall, YMCA, new condo tower, and enhancements to an existing park. This is the fourth and most fully realized iteration of a precedent-setting shelter typology our firm has been testing and refining over two decades. Key aspects include: a highly developed section creating visibility and exposing the building’s vitality; a carefully layered sequence between public, semi-public and private spaces that builds comfort as youth acclimatize and decide individual levels of participation in the life of the community; decentralizing staff and program areas to encourage an ebb and flow of activity; deploying colour to set a calming tone while supporting wayfinding; and a house-based format that fosters life skills and interaction amongst roommates.
This transformative adaptive reuse breathes new life into a previously underutilized building. The design is sensitive to its new occupants’ need for a discrete outward appearance, while preserving the character of the original building. Embodying a ‘first principles’ approach to sustainability, we focused on resourcefulness and intensification as well as on long-term durability and life-cycle costs. Showcasing the heritage building’s exposed brick and timber – finer materials than could have been specified on this project’s limited budget – was an example of how we maximized existing assets and minimized expenditure on new materials and finishes. The ‘future-proofed’ design allows for a planned, eventual addition and facilitates alterations as needs change over time. By providing nearly all areas with natural light, the successful daylighting strategy reduces power loads and contributes significantly to occupant well-being. Extensive computer modelling determined the viability of the daylighting plan and ensured that graduated fritting on the atrium’s skylights would provide views of the sky from within Eva’s, but not afford clear views into the shelter from the block’s pending condo tower. Eva’s Phoenix began having a positive impact while still under construction. Youth enrolled in the building maintenance and repair program run by Eva’s Initiatives participated in various aspects of construction and notably did all the wood capping on the guards and handrails, and assembled mass-produced, flat-packed wardrobes for the townhouses’ bedrooms. Now occupied, Eva’s Phoenix is a calm environment where youth find stability and support as they transition from homelessness to independent living.