Eva’s Phoenix by LGA Architectural Partners
Eva Smith was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary legacy. An immigrant to Canada from Jamaica, her tireless work for homeless youth led to the creation of a series of shelters throughout Toronto. Among them, Eva’s Phoenix was launched after her death in 1993 to provide high school– and college-age girls and boys safe transitional housing and the skills they need to find long-term accommodations and employment.
When plans emerged to convert the building that housed Eva’s Phoenix into condominiums, the organization tapped Toronto-based LGA Architectural Partners (LGA) to design a new space within a 1932 waterworks warehouse and office building in the city’s rapidly gentrifying Fashion District. (A Shim-Sutcliffe designed Ace Hotel is under construction across the street.) Part of a larger commercial and residential development on the edge of St. Andrew’s Park, Eva’s received a portion of the Art Deco building from the city, and will share it with a giant food hall and a YMCA.
It wasn’t the first time the charitable group collaborated with LGA: they designed the original Eva’s Phoenix in 2000. The socially minded practice’s diverse portfolio ranges from innovative, sustainable buildings—its house for the firm’s founding partners, Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman, featured the first green roof on a single-family residence in Toronto—to large-scale university and cultural projects. Even before 2000, however, LGA offered a pioneering approach to designing shelter spaces with Strachan House, run by another organization. That scheme evolved after consultation with homeless people: it evoked an urban streetscape, with long views and individual dwelling units, a strategy LGA adopted for both Eva’s Phoenixes.
The new Eva’s was completed in the fall. Within the vast structure, 10 discrete townhouses line a 30-foot-high atrium that serves as an interior street. Each townhouse—five on either side of the “street”—includes a communal kitchen and small living area on the ground floor and bedrooms for each of its five residents on the floor above. “The idea is to slowly help occupants gain confidence by providing layers of privacy—from a very private bedroom to a semi-private house and, finally, a very public street,” Goodman says.
At the same time, the safety of the 50 residents—who are permitted to remain in the building for up to a year while they receive job training on- and off-site—and the 30 or so staff was a key concern. According to Goodman, “We designed for privacy but also engagement, keeping in mind visibility and audibility in all of the spaces.”
The townhouse living areas, for instance, do not have ceilings. Likewise, their internal staircases, while not accessible from the atrium on the ground floor, are open at the upper level, permitting views and communication between residents climbing the stairs and those hanging out in the atrium, where television, gym, and game areas are casually set up and can be moved around. On a third level over the west row of townhouses, open meeting areas for staff offer passive “rooftop” surveillance. The large skylights that drench that area, and the entire atrium, in sunlight were added above existing clerestory roof monitors. Diagonal bracing was installed and the original steel girders reinforced for the new openings and anticipated increased loads from snow blowing off a condo tower that is planned to rise above the building. To obstruct intrusive views from the future tower, a frit pattern was applied to the skylight glazing.
The former warehouse lent itself to this kind of open arrangement, but in order to build such partially enclosed multistory living spaces, the architects proposed a series of alternate measures for fire and safety and to comply with the Ontario building code. A freight elevator, for example, was removed and replaced with a fire stair. LGA also had to work around limited fenestration—only the east row of townhouses has windows to the outside. Windows along the opposite row were bricked over, since it now faces a party wall.
The major intervention to the masonry and timber structure involved cutting out openings in the lower portion of a brick wall that runs down the length of the atrium, making that space more expansive. The new ground-level concrete floor slab was raised about 3 feet, and 7 more feet beneath it excavated, to accommodate a below-grade, full-service commercial print shop that trains and employs residents. It contains a separate entrance for the public.
Employment skills are also taught in classrooms and counseling offices on the second and third levels, and in a large demonstration kitchen and workshop on the ground floor. Aside from job training, residents are expected to complete weekly chores. They also participated in some aspects of the design and details of the new space, from the choice of paint colors for select townhouse walls to actual construction work on some of the interior finishes. “It makes sense to have the people living in it help build it,” says Goodman.
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.
LGA Architectural Partners
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Partners in Charge: Dean Goodman OAA / Janna Levitt, OAA
LGA Architectural Partners
Structural – Blackwell Structural Engineers
Acoustics - Aercoustics Engineering
Somerville Construction Management
Ben Rahn / A-Frame 416-465-2426
Steel - new second and third floors
Masonry: Existing Masonry
Metal frame: Bliss Noram
Glass: TGP Pilkington Pyrostop (bedroom windows)
Skylights: Alumicor 2300 Series Sylight
Other: 3M Fasara Film
Entrances: Bliss Noram
Wood doors: Baillargeon
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Cornell - fire shutter
Locksets: Sargent Mortise
Closers: Sargent Track Type
Security devices: RCI Electromagnetic Locks
Acoustical ceilings: CGC Radar / Clima Plus
Suspension grid: CGC
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Guard caps fabricated by Eva’s Initiatives Youth, red oak
Paints and stains: Behr
Plastic laminate: WilsonArt HPL
Resilient flooring: Altro Stronghold 30 (kitchen)
Interior ambient lighting: Phillips
Downlights: Juno Lighting
Tasklighting: Indy Lighting
Dimming system or other lighting controls: Lutron
Elevators/escalators: Kone EcoSpace
Energy management or building automation system: BAS: HTS