Eva's Phoenix

Fashion District, Toronto

Can architecture play a key role in stabilizing homeless and at-risk youth? Eva’s Pheonix’s unusual design offers simultaneous privacy and supervision to address its residents’ complex needs.

 

A precedent-setting adaptive reuse project, Eva’s Phoenix is a transitional housing facility and skills training centre for youth aged 16-24. Creating a safe, uplifting, boldly non-institutional space was crucial. 

Occupying the heritage-designated site of a decommissioned waterworks complex built in the 1930s, our design stitches together two art deco warehouses to establish an expansive atrium which we filled with ten ‘townhouses’.  Accommodating a total of 50 residents, the townhouses together form an internal street, which serves as the primary gathering space for this safe, self-contained community. 

Each townhouse includes private bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a communal living space and a kitchen. Careful layering between the private bedrooms, semi-private townhouse spaces, and internal main street enables residents to choose their level of privacy and acclimatize to social interaction at their own pace. The design optimizes visibility and audibility, while creating an environment that feels secure.

Above one of the townhouse rows, we inserted offices and ‘rooftop’ meeting areas that provide humane, semi-private, light-filled spaces for working, meeting, and counselling. There’s a demonstration kitchen on the ground floor and a full-service commercial print shop in the basement.

A key challenge was to adaptively reuse a building that lacked exterior windows on two sides while meeting the code requirement for bedrooms to have exterior windows. We worked with the municipal building department to devise alternatives specifically for this project, such as opening up approximately 30 per cent of the roof with skylights. Carefully calibrated skylight fritting provides views of the sky from within Eva’s, while also ensuring that residents in the condo tower above do not have sightlines into the shelter. The design also integrates daylighting with the lighting system to save energy – strategically located atrium ‘streetlighting’ turns on only when the natural light level falls below a set threshold. 

To minimize cost and new material consumption, we exposed existing materials wherever possible and used new materials only where needed. Light fixtures were salvaged from a soon-to-be-demolished building, and bedroom flooring was donated by a supplier with surplus stock. As part of the skills training program, several residents worked on the project construction.

The City of Toronto later launched a full block redevelopment around Eva’s that now includes a food hall, a YMCA, a condo tower, and a neighbourhood park.

According to Eva’s executive director, Jocelyn Helland, “Eva’s Phoenix was designed to be a warm, welcoming space that says, ‘You are cared for, you belong, and you deserve a great future, no matter what’s happened in the past.’ ” By creating a neighborhood within the building, LGA succeeded not only in providing a sense of refuge for Eva’s residents, but also a sense of home.

– Josephine Minutillo, Architectural Record

Awards

2018 Illinois Institute of Technology Mies Crown Hall Prize Nominee
2018 Social Jury Frame Award
2017 National Trust for Canada’s Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award
2017 Ontario Association of Architects Design Excellence Award
2017 Canadian Green Building Council SAB Magazine Awards, Interior Design Category
2004 Canadian Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC) Housing Award for Best Practices in Affordable Housing
2000 Design Exchange DX Award for Transitional Housing
2000 Peter J Marshall Municipal Innovation Award of Excellence

Media

Dezeen (September 2017) – LGA transforms warehouse into community for homeless youths in Toronto
Co.Design (March 2017) – The Building is Redefining What a Homeless Shelter Means: Eva’s Phoenix is like a city within a city in downtown Toronto
Canadian Architect (March 2017) – Phoenix Rising: A former water pumping station is transformed into a village-like transitional housing and job-training facility for homeless youth
Toronto Star (September 2016) – Unique program gives homeless youth a roof and a new start