Canoe Landing Campus, Toronto, Ontario

The new Canoe Landing Campus by ZAS Architects houses a $65 million community recreation centre, public and Catholic elementary schools and a childcare centre within one innovative campus. The masterplan development recognizes the need for a missing social and educational nexus in downtown Toronto. 

Courtesy of ZAS Architects

Canoe Landing Campus was conceived to provide CityPlace—one of Toronto’s most populated residential developments—with the social infrastructure it needs. The City of Toronto and two publicly funded school boards collaborated to create better facilities than could have been built individually. Community engagement, urban design excellence, and sustainability have been integrated in a partnership model, providing a new solution to address the urban intensification.

“Canoe Landing Campus has been embraced as a place that builds a real sense of ‘neighbourhood’ for this vertical community”, says Peter Duckworth-Pilkington, Principal, ZAS Architects. “We started by listening to the residents and the result is a unique architectural response not previously seen in the city.”

Courtesy of ZAS Architects

Extensive planning and design options were explored, ensuring the new facility seamlessly merges with the existing, widely popular Canoe Landing Park. The result is a layered site with multiple public zones and play areas. The new campus provides opportunity for shared community spaces, and programming offers expanded possibilities for all ages.

The schools share indoor play spaces, a learning commons, gymnasium and educational areas. The outdoor park and community rooms are accessible by all. Bisected by a pedestrian corridor, the two-storey community centre connects with the three-storey schools volume through an elevated bridge, forming an east-west gateway.

“The building’s design welcomes neighbours to take part in community activities, allowing for a synergistic sharing of spaces between the community centre, schools, and childcare,” says Duckworth-Pilkington.  “Now, more than ever, physical space must foster meaningful human connection, while also remaining flexible to support communities with their evolving hybrid and virtual needs for years to come,” says Duckworth-Pilkington. 

Visible from the residences above, the dynamic roof is a vital element, both from a programming and sustainability perspective. Programming includes a running track, sheltered outdoor space for yoga and a full-sized basketball court. Neighbours in the adjacent residential towers now enjoy a remarkable view, similar to that of an open-air stadium.

Embedded within the outer frame, the “active roof” is complemented with passive zones, such as allotment gardens that serve the general neighbourhood and dense vegetation to control and improve water quality. Sustainability and resiliency are prominently integrated, including the introduction of photovoltaic panels that generate 10 percent of the building’s energy, meeting the highest level of the City of Toronto’s Green Standards.

Courtesy of ZAS Architects

Both schools and the City’s childcare center have separate and distinct street entrances. This three-storey area of the building is organizationally stacked, with the younger students on the lower level and the older grades on the upper two levels. A central motor skills area for kindergarten students transitions vertically through the building to become a learning commons area for older students. Common areas are integrated and shared, including the two gymnasiums, learning commons, and playgrounds.

ZAS also partnered with the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) to build its first-ever imagination-based indoor play and community space. The active space fosters learning around themes of urban food production, construction, the natural environment, and scientific principles. Learning apparatuses inspire imagination and creativity, ranging from an operational tower crane to a roller coaster track, climbing wall, oversized building blocks, and communication system with video projectors.

Courtesy of ZAS Architects
Courtesy of ZAS Architects

The outdoor space for the Canoe Landing Campus was designed to provide much-needed relief and connection to nature in an intensely urban environment. Native flora and natural elements were used to reconnect the site to its biospheric location. The intersection of pedestrian thoroughfares is marked by a “Listening Ears” public art installation and low benches shaded by trees, which provide an opportunity to people-watch or catch up with neighbors. During the school day, the site is a protected learning landscape of open-ended naturalized play/didactic elements including an outdoor classroom, climbing structures, and basketball courts. After-hours, the site is opened to the community, transforming into an impromptu amphitheater, basketball courts, and pedestrian routes that become promenades on which to see and be seen.

Courtesy of ZAS Architects
Courtesy of ZAS Architects

Along the streetscape, a transparent façade leads to a large, multi-purpose community room, conceived to host events from farmers’ markets to cultural presentations. The cultural ambition of this space was further galvanized by a creative partnership with The Bentway Conservancy, an independent charity that operates, maintains, and provides public programs under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway.

Honouring the significance of the site, Canoe Landing Campus integrates Indigenous art as part of its architecture. Anishinaabe artist Que Rock and artist Alexander Bacon, based in Toronto, were commissioned to create a 90-metre-long mural on the south wall of the Jean Lamb Public and Bishop MacDonnell Catholic schools as a visual acknowledgement and reminder of Indigenous culture and history of the land. Featuring symbols such as the medicine wheel and the symbolic wisdom of all creatures, the artwork is funded as part of the City’s StreetARToronto (StART) Partnership Program.

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