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Building New Communities how architects support city builders

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Building New Communities how architects support city builders

With the lack of affordable housing dominating the headlines, there’s a renewed awareness, focus and energy to address this urgent issue. Everyone agrees that we want cities where people of all ages, stages and income levels can live. The bigger question is how can we as architects support city builders and developers to collectively achieve this?

The answer is not just in building new housing, but rather, the right type of housing. Somewhere between the two extremes of detached single family homes (which take up large footprints in our growing cities) and highrise multi-residential towers, (which may lack community spaces and amenities desired by families) is the need for a new housing type. The solution lies in filling in urban spaces with missing middle housing.

I’ve long advocated for the need to build more missing middle housing. Cities need thoughtful architectural design solutions that use land and space efficiently. We must create dense, transit-oriented, pedestrian- friendly, complete communities for a range of people and families across the income spectrum. The opportunities are endless for this new approach to development, not only in established neighbourhoods but in former industrial sites, surplus schools and underused shopping malls near transit.

Building for the missing middle means building medium-density, low-impact buildings designed in sync with the needs of the local community. Think small apartment blocks, stacked townhouses, multiplexes, courtyard apartments and other building types ranging from three to six storeys, with proximity to parks, greenspaces, schools and various commercial and community amenities.

It’s encouraging that we’re seeing more examples of these projects across the GTA and Ontario. I’m proud that our firm has helped realize many of them. A recent project we undertook for Mattamy Homes in northeast Markham illustrates how missing middle development is possible.

Our vision for Cornell Centre was to create a sense of place where none existed before. Formerly, the site was used for agriculture. Our challenge was to create a memorable place for residents and visitors that met the client’s financial goals, local planning guidelines and reflected the latest in urban design principles.

With the first phase scheduled for completion in Q1 of 2019, residents and visitors will greeted by a strong corner marker – it will serve as an indoor/outdoor amenity and gathering space for residents, while creating an appealing gateway to the Village of Cornell in Markham. Set over 1.5 acres, the site features 135 units in a six-storey condominium and 10 3.5-storey townhomes. An additional 107 units and six townhomes are planned to be built in the second phase. The condominiums feature ground floor commercial units that blend into the overall design.

A focal point for the community, Cornell Centre serves as an entry to the lowrise townhouse community immediately north and east of the site, while addressing the urban scale of Bur Oak and its connections to contemporary community buildings such as Markham Stouffville Hospital and the Cornell Community Centre and Library. The development’s highly desirable location fosters new opportunities for employees that can now reside in walking distance to work.

Sustainability and active transportation initiatives

Sustainability is always top of mind at Q4A, so we integrated recycled and renewable source materials wherever possible. We incorporated inexpensive, wood frame construction made of renewable organic building materials. The mechanical and electrical systems are 15 per cent more efficient than OBC requirements. Water efficient fixtures reduce water consumption by 30 per cent. Overall, the project meets LEED standards and exceeds Ontario Building Code requirements.

By connecting residents to transportation and open green spaces, we’re enabling and encouraging wider pedestrian use for walkers, runners and cyclists. Fifty per cent of the site’s landscaped areas feature native plantings.

The community is already receiving accolades, with Money Sense recently ranking Cornell Centre as one of the GTA’s top 25 neighbourhoods for affordability. At Q4 Architects, we believe that building more midrise homes and communities is one of the most positive ways to future-proof our cities. If communities embrace missing middle housing typologies, we can cater to diverse demographics by creating and transforming neighbourhoods into vibrant, livable and complete communities.

Frances Martin-Digiuseppe is Founder and Principal, Q4 Architects Inc. Q4Architects.com

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