Integration

 

 

An integrated approach compounds the benefits of our diverse team – revealing how things come together to be better than the sum of their parts.

 

In our practice, we work with clients and communities to direct development in ways that are progressive and viable within each specific context. To do this, we draw on the comprehensive knowledge and skills of our cross-disciplinary team.

Working collaboratively towards well-defined goals, our group of architects, planners and urban designers tackle complex challenges from multiple perspectives, identifying short and long-term opportunities for positive change.

 

 

 

1

Castlepoint Victory Soya Mills Silos, Toronto


Unlocking Opportunity

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Toronto’s waterfront.
Pictured above: the Victory Soya Mills Silos

The Waterfront

Toronto’s former industrial waterfront is undergoing one of the largest urban revitalizations in North America, a project that has the potential to redefine the way that the city is experienced by its residents and visitors – and how it is perceived by people around the world. As Toronto competes with other urban centres for investment and talent, the quality and vitality of this redevelopment will be critical for the city’s success.

Unlocking the full social and economic potential of the district depends on achieving a set of diverse but interconnected development goals: making the entire water’s edge accessible, providing new, inclusive neighbourhoods for working and living, and improving the quality of the environment along the 46 kilometre stretch of Toronto’s waterfront.

For years, the challenge and cost of cleaning up the polluted soil and clearing the industrial lands along the waterfront has made development prohibitively expensive. Frequent comparisons between Toronto’s waterfront and those of other centres, like Chicago and Vancouver, have cast a long shadow on the city – one that is finally starting to pass.

In 1999, an organization called Waterfront Toronto was formed to address the long-neglected waterfront. Funded by all three levels of government, the organization set about creating 300 hectares of public parks and improving infrastructure along the waterfront, with the goal of enticing private developers and businesses to invest in new communities. Within 25 years, Waterfront Toronto has a mandate to deliver 40,000 new residences and 40,000 new jobs.

Since opening Cherry Beach in 2004, Waterfront Toronto has developed about 2000 acres of waterfront land, including more than two-dozen parks and public spaces between Bathurst in the west and the Leslie Spit in the east. The effort has not gone unnoticed. Enthusiasm around the new public spaces is rising, and the underdeveloped sites along the waterfront are now ripe with opportunity.

A Gateway to the City

On the northeast corner of Toronto’s inner harbour, at the mouth of the Keating Channel that connects the Don River with Lake Ontario, lies one key piece of the puzzle. Rising out of a landscape of asphalt and debris is the concrete mass of the Victory Soya Mills Silos. Built in 1943, it is one of only two remaining silo structures from the city’s industrial past, an era that catalyzed Toronto’s urbanization.

The 2.1 hectares surrounding the silos is sandwiched between Lake Ontario and streams of high-speed commuter traffic running along the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard to the north. Just beyond the expressway, Toronto’s booming downtown core is being rapidly developed. But like other sites along the waterfront, change has come slow or not at all. The site has sat vacant since the mill’s closure in 1991.

In 2012, SvN was hired by the land owner, Castlepoint Realty Partners, to lead the redevelopment of the Victory Soya Mills Silos site. Our job was to lay the groundwork for a new and vibrant mixed-use community at the waterfront, which could one day become a gateway between downtown Toronto and the newly revitalized Lower Don Lands.

Unique Complexities

The Victory Soya Mills Silos site is unique for a number of reasons, one being that it is one of the most regulated site in the city. Layers of complex policy and planning conditions require a very sensitive and innovative approach to development.

As both planners and architects, one of our first priorities is to determine how the existing planning requirements on the site affect our client’s ability to move forward with a successful development. One critical piece is ensuring that the silos, designated as a heritage structure in 2004, are treated as a functional, meaningful part of the project. Another challenge is refining the zoning requirements on the site, to ensure the project’s feasibility without compromising design quality. Finally, the unique location of the site presents an enormous opportunity and challenge to create a series of exceptional public spaces, animated with cafes, restaurants and activities that make the most of the waterfront location.

Early on, we identified that the site was subject to a precinct plan that restricted the feasibility of the entire project. Understanding its limitations, we developed a new master plan for our client that would optimize the impact, quality and viability of the urban design and architecture, and began a mediation process at the Ontario Municipal Board to request the necessary changes.

 

A Second Life

The Silos Master Plan, submitted to the OMB as part of an ongoing negotiation process, provides a sustainable, high quality and viable strategy for the site, while keeping in line with the existing policy directions.

The proposal positions the silos at the heart of this new community. By reusing the silos in a functional way, we ensure that they are maintained and celebrated for many years to come. The Silos site now has a tremendous opportunity to become a vibrant and sustainable community with a strong historical identity.

2

Oyu Tolgoi Mine, Mongolia


A New Town in the Gobi Desert

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The Oyu Tolgoi mine camp.

Great Extremes

The Gobi, which covers the southern parts of Mongolia and northwestern China, is a cold desert. Winds from Siberia cause extreme and rapid temperature changes, which can oscillate between –40 °C to +50 °C in as little as 24 hours. But perhaps most surprising is that beneath the wide stretches of sand and exposed rock, lies the largest financial undertaking in Mongolia’s history.

Eighty kilometres north of Mongolia’s border with China, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines is under construction. Owned by global mining house Rio Tinto and the Government of Mongolia, the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) mine is expected to reach full production by 2021. By that time, the taxes and royalties from the mine are projected to increase Mongolia’s annual GDP by 30 per cent.

The Closest Place for Miles

Forty kilometres away is Khanbodg Soum, the town nearest to the mine. Home to about 7000 people, this camel-herding town is comprised of a few homes, a number of gers (traditional Mongolian shelters made of wooden frames and felt walls), a few administrative offices, a school and a hospital with very limited resources. Life in this remote desert community is a world apart from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s booming capital city, with its population of over 1.3 million people.

 

 

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Khanbodg Soum

 

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Ulaanbaatar

Life at the Mine

The mine is expected to last for 50 to 70 years. Over its long life, it will require an operational workforce of over 5000 staff.

Similar to other remote mining sites, the workers building the OT mine spend weeks living in the mine camp, working long, hard days, before flying back to home to Ulaanbaatar on rotation. Daily life on a mine site can be repetitive and exhausting, but often the biggest strain on mine workers is the time spent away from family and friends.

Meanwhile, competition for skilled mine workers is on the rise. With a desire to attract workers, and provide long-term benefits to the entire region, the project developers began to contemplate alternatives.

The Challenge

In 2012, SvN’s team of architects, planners and urban designers, working with consulting firm rePlan, was asked to undergo a comprehensive design study to understand what it would take to build an entirely new town at the OT mine – designed to entice mining staff to permanently relocate with their families to the mine site.

The vision for the town was ambitious: to create a new, vital commercial hub for the fast growing South Gobi region, that could thrive past the life of the mine. We set to work evaluating the risks, opportunities and potentials of this huge financial, environmental and cultural undertaking.

 

Risk vs. Benefit

The report submitted to the project developers demonstrated rigorous insights into the total capital cost of building a resilient new town. With this in hand, our client was able to see all of the choices associated with this venture, to quickly identify where project risks outweighed the project benefits.

Through a comprehensive process of growth modelling, our team showed that the town would likely reach a population of 32,000 within 10 years. The water needed to sustain a town with a population of that size in the Gobi became a central financial, environmental and cultural concern.

That consideration, along with ongoing negotiations between Rio Tinto and the Mongolian government over the financing of the mine’s expansion, has placed plans for the new town on hold.