An energy plant that’s a showcase for sustainable and excellent design—that’s the agenda for a new project by Steven Holl Architects in Toronto. The city’s waterfront redevelopment agency announced last week that it hired Holl’s firm for the new District Energy Centre, an approximately 37,700-square-foot facility that will power a new neighborhood on the city’s lakefront.

Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park, in New Haven, Connecticut

Image courtesy Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Toronto planners looked to the Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park, in New Haven, Connecticut, for a model of how urban infrastructure can integrate successfully with a natural setting.

The plant will sit on a prominent site in the mixed-use West Don Lands district. Already under construction, the 80-acre district will include 6,000 residential units, a community center, and a school, all aiming for LEED Gold certification. There will also be an 18-acre park, designed by Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, along the Don River. Holl’s energy plant will be sited next to that park.

Toronto planners looked to Holl’s award-winning Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park, in New Haven, Connecticut—designed in collaboration with van Valkenburgh—as a model for how urban infrastructure can successfully engage with parkland. “Our idea is for an ‘inhabitable wall’ through which a public path weaves,” says Holl partner-in-charge Chris McVoy. “We’re collaborating with the energy plant engineers to arrange the plant along the linear path.”

The Toronto facility, which Holl has begun designing in association with the local firm Bortolotto Design Architect, forms part of an ambitious sustainability agenda. The generating plant will provide centralized heating and cooling for the West Don Lands district and other neighborhoods nearby—powered by natural gas for now, but designed to work with cleaner energy sources in future. Construction is slated to begin this year and finish in 2010.