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.

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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
533 College Street
Suite 301
Toronto, ON
T: 416-203-7600
F: 416-203-3342


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Partners in Charge: Dean Goodman OAA / Janna Levitt, OAA
Project Architects: Drew Adams OAA CD-CA, Christie Pearson OAA SD-DD
Project Team: Ian Huff, Jeanne Ng, Babak Taghikhani, Alex Tedesco OAA


Interior designer:

LGA Architectural Partners



Structural – Blackwell Structural Engineers
Mechanical – LAM & Associates
Electrical – LAM & Associates
Civil - Fabian Papa and Partners


Acoustics - Aercoustics Engineering
Landscape Architect – Scott Torrance Landscape Architect
Heritage Consulting – E.R.A.
Code - David Hine Engineering
Specifications - Don Shortreed
Hardware - Upper Canada Specialty Hardware


General contractor:

Somerville Construction Management



Ben Rahn / A-Frame 416-465-2426



Structural System

Steel - new second and third floors
Concrete - ground and existing floors


Exterior Cladding

Masonry: Existing Masonry



Metal frame: Bliss Noram



Glass: TGP Pilkington Pyrostop (bedroom windows)
PPG Starphire Low Iron Glass (skylights)

Skylights: Alumicor 2300 Series Sylight

Other: 3M Fasara Film



Entrances: Bliss Noram

Wood doors: Baillargeon

Fire-control doors, security grilles: Cornell - fire shutter
Pentagon Security Shutters - counter security



Locksets: Sargent Mortise

Closers: Sargent Track Type

Security devices: RCI Electromagnetic Locks


Interior Finishes

Acoustical ceilings: CGC Radar / Clima Plus

Suspension grid: CGC

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Guard caps fabricated by Eva’s Initiatives Youth, red oak
Millwork fabricated by CSR Cabinetry & Millwork

Paints and stains: Behr

Plastic laminate: WilsonArt HPL

Resilient flooring: Altro Stronghold 30 (kitchen)
Altro Chrysallis (bedrooms)



Interior ambient lighting: Phillips

Downlights: Juno Lighting

Tasklighting: Indy Lighting

Exterior: Osram

Dimming system or other lighting controls: Lutron



Elevators/escalators: Kone EcoSpace



American Standard



Energy management or building automation system: BAS:  HTS