The original 2-storey block structure was built circa 1950 as a lumber company yard office. In time the land was sold and subdivided for new buildings and the block building was left on a narrow lot on the back lane and became a commercial artist’s studio hemmed in by other buildings. One winter while the tenant was away, the heating system froze and burst turning the building into a giant ice cube. The owner decided to convert the building to residential.
The goal was to renovate and add to the front to create a delightful and healthy family living space that in its construction and operation utilizes low-tech, sustainable design principles, permits a flexible live/work arrangement and contributes positively to the urban fabric.
The original block wall and wood floor/roof joist structure has been re-used. A new glazed wall 8 feet forward from the old structure creates a 2-storey front atrium/stairwell addition. The new addition appears to lean against its larger block neighbour – sharing heat through a joined sidewall and acknowledging a relationship. The deep front yard which was previously asphalt paved is now a garden.
All materials are re-used, salvaged or recyclable. Block walls, wood joists and steel pilasters are left exposed to minimize finish material use. Floor planking, stairs and even window frames are of salvaged wood. Bathroom flooring is eco-friendly linoleum. Painted, floor-warmed concrete over insulation is used in the basement studio. Walls and roof use mostly earth-friendly icynene spray foam insulation. Window frames are made of salvaged wood and insulglazed. A single low-energy dual-tank gas hot water heater is used for both domestic use and a minimal hidden radiator heating system. During construction waste was carefully separated and recycled – supervised by the owner only one barrel of mostly plastic wrap went to the dump. The upper flat roof is fully green with 7” of soil providing extra insulation and supporting a self-seeding hardy garden. Rain water is absorbed by the roof garden or carried to the ground of the front garden.
In the renovation, completed in 2002, the stair was relocated from the middle of the plan to the front atrium leaving a large uninterrupted floor plate on each level. The main floor is living room, dining and kitchen. The second floor front bedroom overlooks atrium, garden and street. The back bedroom looks down the back lane providing surveillance over the back gate of a community garden. The back wall is offered in support of a back lane graffiti gallery. The basement has a separate sunken front patio entry to allow for a separate home office or rental suite.
The deep front setback of the house creates a special and surprising place along the traffic corridor of Richmond Street. The canted roof at the front has a wildflower garden visible from the sidewalk – a hint of the sustainable principles used in the design and construction.
2005 Award of Excellence, Ontario Association of Architects
Project: 546 Richmond St. W., Toronto, Sustainable Townhouse
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