Much like every big city, Toronto has an aging array of Post WW-II high rise apartment buildings. When they were built in the 1960’s they were considered the height of modernity and dense urban design, but now as they are close to reaching the end of their intended lifespan, they are hugely inefficient and lack the qualities that make a sustainable, viable, urban community. There are no markets or grocery stores, inadequate public transportation, and little retail or local jobs. Rather than tear the towers down to start anew, the Mayor and City of Toronto want to use this vast resource of buildings and revitalize the city to become a more sustainable, walkable, greener community.
Toronto's Aging Apartment Towers
With almost 1,000 aging apartment towers in Toronto, it makes little sense to tear down structurally solid buildings to build more efficient ones, not to mention the cost involved, which is estimated to be $50 to $60 million per building. To address the issue, the City of Toronto is starting the Tower Renewal Project, aimed at renovating the buildings and the surrounding communities. The idea for this project began initially with research by Graeme Stewart as a graduate student at the University of Toronto and then later as part of ERA Architects.
Toronto's Tower Renewal Upgrade
A long list of companies and organizations are already involved with the analysis and recommendations for how best to proceed with the renovations and upgrades. The first step in the process will be to update the aging towers to be more energy and water efficient, self-sufficient, sustainable buildings. The interiors will be retrofitted with more advanced HVAC systems, smart metering systems, and healthier interior finishes. Meanwhile the exterior will receive new duct work for solar hot water, PV panels and internet, enclosed balconies, new windows with operable panes, more insulation and new exterior cladding. Buildings could also have a combination of renewable energy and living roofs on top.
Each tower will also be remodeled inside to include community rooms, laundry, retail and even office space. Currently the towers are situated amid vast spaces of unused land that will be transformed into parks, open space, community gardens, market space, native landscaping and perhaps even more housing. The goal eventually is to have a thriving, walk-able community built into and around the current infrastructure. Residents will be able to walk to the market, restaurants, their job, or a locally owned store. In conjunction with the building retrofits, Toronto will also be working on their transit plan, which will build out light rail lines throughout the city.
The Mayor and the City have already chosen four pilot sites to test out their renewal ideas. Over the next two years they will upgrade the buildings and begin implementing the community projects. A report by Kesik, ERA and others estimates that the retrofit will cost $4 to $5 million per building and will repay for itself within 10-12 years. The largest hurdle they expect to face is getting the tower owners to buy into the project and invest money for the upgrades. We suspect though that once these pilot projects are completed and they see how vastly the area is transformed, they will quickly jump on the bandwagon. Good luck to Toronto with their ambitious and very exciting project.
Photos and renderings courtesy of Graeme Stewart