The Community.Design.Initiative (CDI) is a collaborative project to redesign the East Scarborough Storefront (4040 Lawrence Avenue East) located in one of Canada’s most at-risk and diverse neighbourhoods. The project facilitates a conversation about architecture’s responsibility to engage across not only physical, but economic, social, cultural, and environmental contexts. The project goes beyond the building itself and explores the far-reaching effects of this change on the landscape of the inner suburbs as a result of this participatory architectural process.
CDI is unique collaboration project between a social service delivery hub (East Scarborough Storefront), an architectural think tank (archiTEXT), and two architecture firms (Sustainable.TO and ERA Architects). The building project, based in the priority neighbourhood of Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park in East Scarborough, has engaged youth to design a 10,000 sq. ft. addition to the social service delivery hub.
Over the last four years, local youth have been engaged with architects, landscape architects,planners, designers, and over 45 professionals involved in the conception, design, fundraising, approval process, and construction of the building.
Since 2009, the mentors and professionals have been working with the youth and community of East Scarborough to re-imagine their community service delivery hub — a one-stop shop “Hub” where, under one roof, 40 partner agencies deliver services to support the people of the community.
Together, they have developed a Master Plan for the building and the site for a sustainable and accessible adaptive reuse of a dis-spiriting 1960’s police substation into a vibrant place of extreme imagination and practicality, which better reflects the spirit of the community. The 7-phased Master Plan allows for the realization of the vision in stages, as funding becomes available. To date, the collaborative detailed design and construction of phases 1 through 4 (the renovation of the existing building) has been completed, and have begun phase 7 (shade and naturalization strategies on the site), with strategic additions to the building to follow.
Key sustainable architectural features include: adaptive reuse of a robust existing building and site; re-connection of the building and site to the surrounding community and green spaces; resource and energy-efficiency; creative rainwater harvesting and shade structures; optimization of renewable energy sources; local food production; shade and naturalization strategies; and accessibility for all.
In the last several years, the conversations around participatory design seem to be increasingly pervasive. Architects around the world are challenging themselves to not only reinvent architecture in its physical form, but the process through which it is created. In Canada, architects have begun to engage into this research, mostly by way of providing pro-bono work for non-profit groups. The Community.Design.Initiative takes this research a long step further by exploring the relationship building, the legal frameworks, and the time commitment required to make these projects truly participatory. As we present it in provinces across Canada, we hope that this type of work can give this new style of practice the traction it needs to more fully take off across the country. Allowing this style of practice to be explored more widely across Canada would give architects a new, and much-needed sense of relevance in places and communities where our role and input has steadily, and considerably diminished over the last three or four decades. It can reload architecture with real significance – proving that buildings can be bearers of a fabulous and much needed artistic potency when they are created by the community, rather than for the community.
To date, the youth have completed over 3,000 square feet of renovations to the existing structure, fundraised over $2.2 million dollars, and are filing a patent for a green building innovation entitled a “Sky-o-Swale®.” The project has been recognized as the case study for the internationally recognized Tower Neighbourhood Renewal project, and is a national legacy project exploring innovation in place-based poverty reduction, local economic development, youth capacity building, collaboration between designers and social services, and the impact of community-led architecture on the social and physical landscape of the inner suburbs.
The Community.Design.Initiative is renewing architectural discourse and practice, and is rebuilding key connections with audiences and communities that had long lost touch with architects and architecture.