The suburban landscape surrounding Toronto have unique housing conditions that you cannot find in most any other post-war suburb in North America; there are nearly two thousand high-rise dwellings that house over one million people which spread across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The need for renewal of these aging structures is not based on aesthetics, but for the practicality of the nearly one million collective residence of these complexes. Due to the original zoning of the towers, and the heavy reliance of automobile culture from the 1950s onward, these communities were based on the fact that their tenants would drive to wherever they need to be. With the growth of the city, these "towers in the park" where seemingly forgotten to slowly decay, both physically and socially, where the tenant base went from upper-middle-class families to either new Canadian citizens or lower income families. This deterioration is directly connected to lack of social infrastructures such as public transit and close proximity to other amenities such as grocery stores.
Examples of Toronto's Post-War Apartments reflecting "The Tower in the Park" ideology.
The Tower Renewal Project is a City of Toronto project led by ERA Architects and incorporates architecture, urban design, and social analysis to better the lives of the tenants within the towers. The main issue is the lack of social infrastructure due to the fact that the towers are purely residential and do not contain any commercial or retail services. As a result integrating businesses, and other commercial establishments to the bases of the towers will create much-needed access to products and services that have previously been inaccessible. The improvements don't end there, however, as the City of Toronto is changing zoning laws to incorporate more parks for public programs, as well as adding transit routes and stops to a majority of the towers. To accomplish the vast and complex changes to the urban fabric, as well as the many communities that this colossal project is based upon, a diverse partnership is needed to cover all of the bases of the project. The Tower Renewal Project has cultivated a vast partnership with: the City of Toronto, Toronto Public Health, the Government of Ontario, Municipal Partners throughout Ontario, University of Toronto, Toronto Atmospheric Fund, Metcalf Foundation, Atkinson Foundation, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, NBLC, and Transsolar KlimaEngineering.
Diagram by ERA Architects showcasing the many alterations in zoning to accommodate the new amenities and social services being incorporated into the towers.
Along with their purpose, the facades of the towers are also getting an update. The newly constructed areas of these communities are perceived to be completely contemporary in both use and style, so the towers are being cleaned and repaired to match the aesthetic of the new infrastructure. These new facades include new windows, sun shades, adding enclosed balconies, solar water heating, insulated weather sensitive services, removable metal over-cladding, and new service logistics for gas, waste, and other amenities to increase building efficiency.
Representation of over-cladding new facades over the current towers
Back on street level, open public walks with serve as both logistical and cultural spaces for markets, events, and other community gatherings for community enjoyment. These conditions will allow tenants to become socially closer-knit to become a true community, instead of just being classified as a community through physical proximity. All of the possible events can be used to express ethnicity, cultural interests, as well as many other culturally driven activities which would reflect Toronto's multicultural population in both tenant base, and as a city as a whole.
Rendering of improved 'farmers market' occurring in a public square surrounded by post-war apartments
Toronto City Council has already given the green light to this massive and ambitious project to alter some of the nearly two thousand tower communities that are in and surround the city, but with time, patience, support, and a lot of tax money being allocated to the project, the outcome would benefit the current and future habitats of these diverse tower communities. By updating Toronto's post-war apartments, the city is applying contemporary ideologies to mid-century models which embody the social and environmental priorities we currently value. For me personally, the architectural and urban retrofit of these apartments is a much more economical alternative to tearing them down and displacing residents as we've seen in other instances - like Regent Park community housing - in Toronto.
Take a look at these other posts on high-density housing featured on Houseporn.ca:
Photographs and Research Courtesy of:
Written and researched by Andrew Cara; Architecture Design, History, Theory, and Criticism Undergraduate Student at the University of Toronto John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.