West Don Lands
Toronto’s West Don Lands, at the original mouth of the Don River, was first developed as a heavy industrial area and railway yard during the 19th century.
In 1987, the Province of Ontario expropriated the West Don Lands, with a plan to develop a new community that would help to address Toronto’s lack of subsidized housing. The Ataratiri project was planned as a mix of market and affordable housing, for a community of 14,000 people.
SvN’s predecessor firm, van Nostrand Architects, prepared a report for two levels of government called “New Designs for Multi-Family Housing in Ataratiri and the Railway Lands.” The report outlined a new approach to the design of housing and common spaces in multi-unit residential developments, to reflect the demographic, economic and social changes within a community.
Through the careful configuration of building services, elevator cores and structure, the Ataratiri report illustrated ways to alter the size of units and building floor arrangements based on need and household size. The units were design for maximum flexibility, to accommodate a diverse mix of family types and income levels. The report also investigated a range of ownership and rental tenure options.
Before the West Don Lands could be developed, the land had to be cleared of contamination, and protected against the risk of flooding from the Don River. The cost of preparing the site was estimated at more than a billion dollars. By 1992, the real estate market had crashed, and the hope of attracting private investment to the site was lost. However, the innovative strategy for flexible housing established for Ataratiri became foundation in our approach to the planning and design of diverse communities.
Toronto’s 2008 Olympic Bid
In 2001, SvN was hired to create a master plan and prototype housing design for the Toronto 2008 Olympic Bid in the Port Lands area. We created a two-phase development plan: the first phase was designed to accommodate the Olympic athletes during the Games, and the second phase was a ‘legacy plan’ for a permanent mixed-use community at the waterfront.
For games mode, a temporary fit-up was required to accommodate the huge number of athletes, over a short span of the Games. For legacy mode, the prototypical-housing that we designed illustrated a gradual change in dwellings over time. Making use of the innovative housing strategies first initiated in the Ataritiri report, we proposed a flexible base building that could be reconfigured to accommodate both affordable and market housing long after the Games were over.
Toronto lost the 2008 Olympic bid to Beijing, but through this project, our team gained expertise in the complex infrastructural and technical requirements required to mount an athlete’s village under International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines. This prepared our team to deliver highly specialized planning and architecture services throughout the development of Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village.
The Pan Am Games
The 2015 Pan Am Games was the largest multi-sport event ever hosted in Canada. From July 10 to 26, 2015, over six thousand athletes gathered to compete in 364 events held in Toronto and seventeen other communities across the Golden Horseshoe region. It was followed by the Parapan Am Games, which took place from August 7 to August 15, 2015.
When Toronto decided to bid on the Pan American Games, SvN was contacted to prepare detailed assessments for potential locations for the Athletes’ Village. We undertook a complete assessment of a site at York University. When the University site became unavailable, the City and Province turned their attention back to the West Don Lands.
Meanwhile, Waterfront Toronto, the agency responsible for revitalizing Toronto’s lakefront, had a plan in place for the future development the site. Our assessment of the West Don Lands for the Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village involved a test-fit of the requirements, while carefully working within the planning guidelines put in place by Waterfront Toronto. We studied how many buildings would need to be built, how much land would need to be developed, and what additional approvals would be required to take over the additional pieces of land. Our work ensured that the site was an ideal choice for Toronto’s bid for the Games.
Once the West Don Lands site was confirmed, SvN was hired to create the master plan for Toronto’s Pan Am bid. Like the Olympic Village, the infrastructure and housing plan was structured in two phases – a temporary solution for the duration of the Games, and a long-term solution for its future life as a permanent mixed-use community.
During the Pan Am Games, thousands of participants descended on the Athletes’ Village, for just over two weeks. The IOC guidelines, which also apply to the Pan Am Games, demand very strict security measures to protect the athletes during the Games. As a result, the Athletes’ Village must be insulated from the rest of the city, which in turn means that it must be completely self-contained.
To build a village that includes everything from a hair salon, to a florist, to a supermarket, requires an enormous amount of temporary infrastructure. Athletes enter the Village through the Welcome Centre, which is housed in a tent, but equipped with the capacity of an airport terminal. It has multiple layers of security checks, screening rooms and administrative offices. The residential buildings require the highest level of security. For the duration of the Games, the ground floor of these buildings are used as temporary offices of each visiting National Olympic Committee (NOC) from the participating countries. The Athlete’s Village is of the most secure and complex temporary environments that is mounted, anywhere in the world.