It takes courage By Marco VanderMaas, Heather Asquith, Joon Jeong, Jay Pitter & George Foussias

It takes courage

​By Marco VanderMaas, Heather Asquith, Joon Jeong, Jay Pitter & George Foussias


The city of Toronto is experiencing unprecedented growth. However, growth is more than erecting taller buildings or undertaking massive development projects. It encompasses taking stock of our past and responding to our future in a mindful manner. Our proposal celebrates the city’s tradition of wooden buildings since the residential neighbourhoods are predominantly built with wood.

We’ve proposed a whimsical and utilitarian wood housing design, which responds to an increasingly complex range of factors. Within the context of holistic city-building, growth must respond to climate change, demographic shifts, local histories and the shared values of city-dwellers. The community surrounding the Art Gallery of Ontario bordered by Dundas West, Baldwin Street, McCaul Street and Spadina Ave is a great example of multiple realities. This area of the city is at an intersection of diverse culture, rapid change and creativity. Frank Gehry’s wood and glass design cleverly mirrors nineteenth century mansions in a slick curtain wall and is juxtaposed by the vibrant and gritty bustle of China Town. The community as it is reflected with all its diversity and strengths provides a real opportunity for integration rather than transformation by imposing density through large new buildings.

Our circular umbrella dwelling structures have a small footprint and thereby tread lightly on the neighbourhood in which they are inserted. Bachelors, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units are provided depending how the circular floor plate is divided. An effective prototype emerges because of the following:

  • Small property owners can work collaboratively with their very own neighbours rather than having the neighbourhood transformed by a developer focused on land acquisition;
  •  The top floor will be at a maximum height of 18 metres which will allow taller wood construction as per recently amended local building codes;
  • This mid-rise model will be relatively close to street level ensuring that occupants become quickly enmeshed in their new neighbourhood.

As our climate changes Toronto experiences hotter summers and more extreme freeze-thaw cycles during the winters. Temperature swings cause expansion and contraction that is taxing on building systems. Moderating the changes by embracing physics and natural properties of construction materials allows for passive strategies to be utilized. We considered the following hybrid structure:

  •  A concrete core provides non-combustible exit requirements and reliable support for mechanical elevating devices. The massive structure absorbs ambient temperature and acts as a trombe to help regulate heating and cooling loads;
  •  Steel sections form a tensile structure around the concrete core and can be ‘tuned’ like strings to hold the wooden cantilevered dwelling units;
  • Wooden dwelling units utilize Laminated Veneer Lumber.

The demising walls between units act as beams and by staggering connect to each other creating a radial honey comb structure that is light, efficient and strong.  Through innovative engineered wood construction combined with tried and true concrete and steel solutions we can protect the neighbourhoods that we hold dear, foster local relationships and embrace design approaches and materials that will ensure our shared future. Growing up is never easy, but Toronto could become what it really is.

City Above the City architecture competition

Plan B : City Above the City architecture competition 

Metsä Wood challenged architects and students around the world to push the boundaries of modern wood building design in the urban environment. Entrants from 40 countries created their Plan B to urbanisation using wood (Kerto® LVL – laminated veneer lumber) as the main material. The task was to design a wooden extension to an existing urban building. The entries were designed to 69 cities worldwide.

Explore the designs