2020 Toronto, Ontario

2020 Toronto, Ontario

Adaptability and Conservation: 21 Dundas Square

Bee Breeders Competition

Summary of findings

Often when sustainability is discussed, the first things that come to mind are new technologies, materials, and approaches. But what about the old?

Architectural drawing of a high rise

Conservation of the old and existing – and in a broader view adaptive reuse  – is not just culturally sustainable, but also environmentally, operationally, and economically. Conservation focuses on the long-term maintenance of buildings, to allow for their use and reuse when some of the components have reached the end of their life. The embodied energy of old structures make up a significant portion of the lifetime energy expenditure, and should be weighted heavily in the evaluation of their future. Adaptive reuse continues the momentum of this embodied energy, and is thus inherently sustainable.

Thinking like a future conservationist can also help in the design of new buildings. Architects should ask: is my structure flexible? Am I only designing to the minimum? How difficult will it be to replace and renovate these systems? How can I imagine this being reused? These are questions that can help extend the functional life of most of the durable architectural components.

This approach is currently being applied to the adaptive reuse of 21 Dundas Square in Toronto, a heritage-designated art deco tower. Giaimo took an expanded view of conservation, understanding this work as the first of ideally a few 100-year restorations. Over the life span of the building, it has accumulated layers of plaster, gypsum board, floors, ceilings, mechanical systems and redundant piping, which of course, took up space. Years of deferred maintenance sometime led to increased accumulation, with new systems running alongside the existing, outdated, abandoned systems. We started by peeling back these layers, and understanding what could be salvaged. The building has a robust cast-in-place concrete frame and brick shell, constructed between 1919 and 1929. In this case, the simplicity of the structure is what has ensured its longevity. The flexibility and durability of the frame allow interior walls to be moved and removed as needed to adapt to changing needs, enabling the space to have served as an office, production facility, and a jewellery manufacturing facility, with opportunity for new programming in the future. The brick shell doesn’t rely on a unique construction material, but on something that has remained in use for hundreds of years. 

We view this work as stewardship – conserving and adaptively reusing buildings that will outlast us, and creating opportunities for resilient and sustainable spaces.

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