Kurtis Chen

Circular Living Lab

What if architects, designers, and builders shifted their perspective away from linear thinking, and started to see waste as a resource? Launched as part of DesignTO Festival 2024, the Circular Living Lab was a collaborative exhibit and installation exploring sustainable design through reuse and deconstruction, material salvage, and urban mining in the built environment. The one-week temporary exhibit was visited by over 500 attendees.


165 Niagara St, Toronto

Completion Date

January 2024




Exhibit, Temporary Installation


Collaboration between:



Ouroborous Deconstruction

Ha/f Climate Design

Haley Anderson Consulting

Image Credits

Kurtis Chen



The Circular Living Lab is a new initiative launched by TAS at the north-east corner of The Yards, their upcoming community project. For DesignTO Festival 2024, the space featured an art installation and exhibit. The art installation, subtract adapt, was designed by Giaimo Architects using reclaimed brick, terracotta, and other local materials sourced by Arcana Restoration. The exhibit, The Erin Project, co-organized by Ouroboros Deconstruction, Ha/f Climate Design, and Haley Anderson Consulting, tells the deconstruction story of a 9,850 sq.ft. home in Erin, Ontario. It also features upcycled artisan-made products and furniture by: Brother Dressler, Coolican & Company, Daniel Gruetter Furniture and Objects, OCAD’s DESIGNwith, Jole, Max Perry, Suzanne Faris, and Tetome House.  

Kurtis Chen


Kurtis Chen

Canada is the world’s largest producer of waste per capita. It comes as no surprise then, that demolition is highly prevalent in this country and Toronto especially. Construction, buildings, and demolition account for 40% of our landfill waste. (Canada’s Ecodiscal Commission, Solid Waste Report, 2018).

Designed by Giaimo with Arcana Restoration, Subtract adapt reveals the beauty and craftsmanship of undervalued building materials typically destined for landfill and explores the potential for design without depletion. The salvaged materials collaged together share insights into the city’s construction history over the last century. The bricks and terracotta tiles are sourced from multiple homes built in the 1890s and 1920s. The glass blocks are from a mid-century building on the OCAD University campus. Even the wood and paint used are left-over materials from recent renovation projects.

Despite their stories, these materials end up in a landfill every day in today’s construction industry. The installation encourages designers and city-builders to explore creative new uses for these salvaged materials and envision a sustainable future built from the past.


Eaton’s College St. store being deconstructed, showing piles of salvaged materials. 1928, Toronto Star Archives.

What value – environmental, cultural, social, financial – can we find in reusing the existing? Much of Ontario’s historic architecture is made of brick. Our geography and landscape, rich in clay, made brick an inexpensive material to make locally. The durability of brick appropriately responds to our varied seasonal climate that puts increased stress on our buildings. Its significance is further emphasised in the history of Toronto’s city-building guidelines, ranging from the Great Fire of 1904 which prompted a bylaw requiring brick and banning wood as a primary material for new buildings, to the 1950s when masonry was seen as the appropriate architectural design material for Toronto in neighbourhood master plans. Even our waterfront is filled with this material; from Humber Bay Shores to Leslie St Spit, you’ll find an infilled shoreline of bricks.

Today, we are faced with significant loss of historic brick through demolition – wasting the embodied upfront carbon of buildings, adding to landfills, and diminishing the cultural heritage within our built environment. Ironically, the heritage construction industry in Toronto frequently outsources historic brick from Europe due to lack of supply in Ontario for restoration projects.

Young women paid 1.5 cents for each brick they clean and salvage from the demolition of the Bay Street wing of St. Michael’s College. 1971, Toronto Star Archives.

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