Evergreen Brick Works

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A busy market is located in what once was a brick factory.Site plan for the Evergreen Brick Works

Location: Toronto, Canada. Block, Street, and Building

SITE: A historic former brickworks covering 12 acres at the heart of Toronto’s ravine network

Program: Adaptive reuse of existing brickwork buildings to serve as a community and recreational space that celebrates the site’s rich history

Established in the 1880s, Toronto’s Don Valley Brick Works was one of the largest producers of brick in North America. The facility closed in the 1980s, and the site, which is situated on a podium within Toronto’s distinctive system of ravines, was sold to a housing developer. A proposal to create a housing development faced opposition from environmentalists and community activists, and in 1989 the provincial government purchased the site through expropriation, creating a garden on the fill of the former quarry.

Despite being designated a heritage site in 2002, the fate of the former brick works buildings remained in question until the environmental non-profit Evergreen, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and the City of Toronto partnered with a multidisciplinary team including DTAH architects to sensitively redevelop the site as a community hub. The project, finished in 2010, is the result of the adaptive reuse of all 16 brick works buildings.

Jurors noted how the project carefully programs the brickworks site to create a civic space that brings together visitors from disparate surrounding communities. New uses include a yearlong farmers market, a native plant nursery, a non-profit bike repair shop and ample recreation such as a climbing tower and a nature-based children’s playground. Juror Vivian Fei Tsen appreciated the seasonally responsive programming of the project’s space, such as ice-skating in the community garden during the winter. The only new building on site is Evergreen’s office headquarters, which also serves as an incubator for other socially minded non-profit organizations.

The design team appreciated the beauty and utility of the flexibility that characterizes the brick works buildings, the result of almost 100 years of adaptation and transformation. They adopted a “light touch and loose fit” approach to programming that leaves as much of the site’s gritty charm as possible in place and minimizes interventions that would preclude future generations from continuing the valuable process of built adaptation and revision.

The design also respects the historic character and use of the site through the retention, public documentation, and reuse of remaining industrial equipment and artifacts. History is thus allowed to permeate the site, bringing Toronto residents into intimate contact with their heritage as they make use of the project’s community facilities.

Given the environmental mission of its proponents and the site’s location on a contaminated site in a flood plain, sustainability was both a key goal and challenge. The design team paid careful attention to details such as window-to-wall ratios, insulation, operable windows and water management. Extensive rooftop landscaping allows for reuse of rainwater as grey water and mechanical cooling.

The design team also addressed the site’s challenging location within Toronto’s ravines. The podium on which the historic buildings are located originally isolated the project from adjacent park space. The redevelopment connects the site with parkland through pedestrian flows that move through buildings and open space, responding to existing natural and built conditions. The project enhances access through the inclusion of a car share program and the operation of a regular shuttle bus to the nearest subway station.

Jurors praised the Evergreen Brick Works project for its innovative reuse of a challenging – but historic – built fabric. The project respects the enterprising spirit and built legacy of the original industrial use while responding to environmental considerations and the need for gathering space within the larger community.

Watch a video about the planning and construction of the Evergreen BrickWorks.

Read more at this project's website.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general.
Status: Complete
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Green buildings, Sustainable infrastructure.
Land area (in acres): 12
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Project team designers: DTAH
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status: Brownfield (former industrial)

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -