By Sophie Lamothe, Baninam Ago, Annie Marinier, Alexandre Côté, Marie-Hélène Côté  (A4 ARCHITECTURE + design inc.)
Densification is one of the main problems in today’s biggest cities. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is experiencing an urban sprawl since the early 2000s. The GTA has a population of over 6,0 M and is expected to reach 7,7 M by 2025 according to the Ontario Ministry of Finance. In this urban context, going higher rather than wider seems to be a more viable solution. Moreover, building higher over existing buildings allows to preserve the existing fabric of the city in comparison to the tabula rasa approach. The Annex neighbourhood, located in downtown Toronto, presents a majority of homes and mansions from the early 1900s and a handful of high-rise apartments buildings from the 1960s. The growing demand for housing, especially for student housing, requires the demolition of existing older low rise buildings.
The Balbuzard project – translation of osprey in French – consists of a low cost, easy built and sustainable solution for preservation and densification. The initial concept for the project comes from the eagle: building his nest on top of trees by bringing one by one each branch that will house its eggs and chicks. With the same process in mind, the Balbuzard project presents modular elements that will be dropped on top of existing buildings to form new buildings above.
Student-style accommodation with communal facilities represents a judicious solution to the growing urban housing demand. This typology could serve more than students but also adults who are unable to buy their own property. Small units are easy to prefabricate, easily installed above high structures in addition to being modular and evolutionary. The vision of the project tends towards a global concept easily adaptable to all growing cities and various building types. The first additional layer acts as a structural transition from the roof and its mechanical equipment, consequently providing the adaptability to the concept. Every module acts as structural columns between each layer of beam frame that will support another layer of modules. The modules, distributed between one or two storeys, are structurally independent, and prefabricated in order to be connected to the main electrical and plumbing services. The remaining work on site includes the installation of finishes. Since wood is the main finish, from beams to wall panels, the intent is to expose most of the wood as an indoor and outdoor finish. The design approach aims to reduce the carbon footprint of the inhabitants by prefabricating as much of the modules as possible, building mainly from wood and providing shared facilities. The latter consists of living rooms, kitchens, study places and a community garden which are available to every inhabitant of the extensive building. The Balbuzard project looks forward to saving water, space and materials while promoting community, sharing and social interactions.