Communities are always evolving. That is why our solutions anticipate and adapt to the changing needs of people and places.


For years, we have planned, designed and built communities in response to rapid social, economic, and environmental change. Designing for change involves studying local histories, anticipating emerging economies, and identifying social risks and opportunities.

Our plans, design and strategies are both particular and flexible: they respond to the specific needs of people and their environments, but are designed to adapt to change as communities evolve.




A Plan for Amman, Jordan

Defining new strategies for rapid change



Amman, the capital city of Jordan, is built on the eastern boundary of Mount Al-Qalʿah, in a small triangular plateau just north of a major river valley. Evidence of settlement in this area dates back to c.4000 B.C., but Amman remained a small village until World War I.  In 1921, the British government established a protected emirate of Transjordan, and Amman became the capital of that state.

The country gained independence in 1946, and came under the control of King Hussein of Jordan. Waves of Palestinian refugees arrived to Amman after World War II. The city grew in rapid spurts, receiving influxes of people displaced by conflict across the Middle East, as well as migrants from neighbouring countries and other parts of Jordan.

By the early 1990s, Amman was home to Jordan’s royal palace, parliament buildings and courts. A number schools, hospitals and public institutions were established, along with an international airport and a well-developed infrastructure system.

Amman’s population had reached 1.8 million people by the time King Hussein died in 1999. He was succeeded by his son, King Abdullah II.

A New Era

In 2006, King Abdullah appointed Omar Maani as Mayor of Amman by Royal Decree. Amman’s population had risen again, this time to over 2.4 million residents. It was expected to triple in size over the next 20 years. The most recent population growth had spurred a construction boom, placing additional stress on existing infrastructure and services.

The Mayor was charged with creating a strategic plan to accommodate the rapid growth and development of the city. He needed a strong vision for the future, and a viable way of achieving it, starting immediately. SvN was hired by the Mayor to work with city officials to create and implement a comprehensive Master Plan for Amman.

An Unorthodox Approach

Our team began by identifying the key priorities to address rapid growth across the metropolitan region of Amman. This included the intensification of the existing city, while retaining its rich natural and cultural heritage and protecting its views, landmarks and natural topography.

Conventionally, plans for cities the size of Amman work from the top down, setting out objectives for the entire city that take at least two years to complete and longer to be approved and implemented on the ground.

But the speed and scale of change taking place in Amman called for an unorthodox approach, one that allowed work to start immediately. Our plan was structured to respond quickly to problems on the ground, and implementation was scheduled at interim stages. It was specifically designed to facilitate immediate and ongoing urban development, while avoiding unnecessary delays.

High Rise Development

The most pressing issue at hand was the forthcoming surge of high-rise development. Hungry for foreign investment, Amman had 60 high rise towers proposals from Emirate developers under consideration. These towers would have a dramatic effect on a city largely distinguished by its four-story marble and limestone structures.

The Mayor gathered developers and key landowners to a public meeting to introduce the Amman Plan. He announced a freeze on high rise development for three months until guidelines were released to govern where these tall buildings could built in Amman.

Incremental Change

The global recession in 2008 and sustained instability in the Middle East has slowed the development of Amman. But the Amman Plan is still being implemented incrementally, through the leadership of the city officials who were our partners during the development of the project.

The Amman Plan can act as a model for managing rapid change that can be applied to cities around the world. The plan was awarded the 2007 World Leadership Award in Town Planning from the World Leadership Forum, and an Award of Excellence from the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2010.


Pan Am Games Athletes Village, Toronto

Flexible Approach to Planning and Design


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.

Games Infrastructure

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.


Adapting to Change

The Olympic Bid, and our previous work in the West Don Lands, prepared us for the complexity of the work that we contributed towards the Pan Am Games.

Many of the adaptive strategies that were delivered through the site assessments, the master plan bid, and the detailed AFP process, have become embedded in the future life of this diverse and vibrant waterfront community.