Toronto, Canada is a city with a diverse and inclusive population. Inasmuch, community centers are a central component of the urban landscape. With a focus on that with the environmental landscape, the North East Scarborough Community and Child Care Center aims to achieve net-zero carbon status. 

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A yellow community center building surrounded by trees

In conjunction with design studio Perkins&Will, the city of Toronto launched the project in alignment with goals to build more robust access for social and recreational community activities. The community center focuses on both operational and embodied carbon, keeping energy-efficient design in every step of the way. Net-zero operational carbon will be achieved through the use of renewable energy and ultra-efficient systems inside the building. As Toronto and Ontario’s first net-zero community center, the project hopes to set a new standard for civic infrastructure.

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A hallway of one of the floors to the community center

For efficient use of space, the building incorporated vertical stacking. Construction emphasized a tight envelope. In alignment with the city of Toronto’s 2019 declaration of a climate emergency, the design relies on air source heat pumps and solar hybrid panels that generate both electricity and heat. The parking lot canopies are also equipped with bifacial photovoltaic panels. It will increase renewable energy generation of each PV panel compared to more traditional PV systems.

A hallway with dining tables and people meandering about

“With our climate crisis top of mind, it’s no longer sufficient for community centers to provide quality public space; they must also serve as beacons for resilience,” said Zeina Elali, senior sustainability advisor with Perkins&Will. “Our strategies for the North East Scarborough Community and Child Care Centre prove you can feasibly achieve net-zero carbon goals that will create holistic, healthy environments. This state-of-the-art building demonstrates a clear path forward for other municipalities on future sustainable and resilient designs of public spaces.”

An indoor basketball court

For the community, by the community, the center is the result of a multi-year communication directly with those who will use the center. Through the process, the city and design team were able to identify and meet the needs for amenities, programming and green space that other community centers lack. 

An indoor pool

Speaking to the inclusion of the city, the design accommodates the request of predominantly South Asian residents with the city’s first purpose-built practice cricket pitch. Similarly, the center includes gender-neutral change rooms and a pool that is strategically located away from public view for Muslim women and women-only swims.

A hallway with seating against the left side and people walking on the right side

The surrounding landscape includes a series of interconnected pathways, as well as an urban skateboard park, an outdoor playground, a basketball court and a splash pad. In addition, there is a fitness center, additional pools, a running track and a green roof with outdoor terraces. 

A hallway with stairs leading to the upper floors

“As land becomes increasingly scarce in dense urban centers, there is an opportunity to rethink the typical community center typology. Our approach to Northeast Scarborough Community Centre proves we no longer need large swaths of land to create meaningful community hubs,” said Elali. “While stacking programming, such as a gym on top of a pool, is rare, it can prove to be a viable new approach that will reduce a building’s carbon footprint while bringing programming that meets communities’ needs.”

+ Perkins&Will

Images via Perkins&Will