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Building future cities from old infrastructure 

Vancouver Roundhouse Image: Vancouver Roundhouse Community Centre
Top image caption: Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver, BC. ‐ Image: Vancouver Roundhouse Community Centre

Published on March 06, 2020

 Five inspiring examples of adaptive reuse in Canada

As built structures from our past become disused or abandoned, architects, designers and urban planners are scrapping the start-from-scratch approach and looking at new ways to reimagine the role of these structures in today’s communities. With history and sustainability top of mind, adaptive reuse has become a first-choice when building our future cities.

At Evergreen, we know the power of saving the old to create the new. Ten years ago we transformed a former brick factory in the Don Valley into Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, reimagining its 16 historic buildings and an adjacent 16-hectare public park into a community hub and showcases of how the past, present and future can convene in one space.

Cities across the country have continuously raised the bar on creating innovative buildings and public spaces without razing old infrastructure. Here are five past and current projects that spark our imagination:

Old airport becomes a low-carbon community – Blatchford, AB

Edmonton’s City Centre Airport’s old site is becoming one of the world’s largest sustainable communities. Canada's first licensed airstrip in 1927, it is now being developed into Blatchford, a 536-acres carbon-neutral community in the heart of Edmonton.

The deconstruction of the site was innovative – the 12 airport buildings were disassembled and building materials removed and repurposed to stand elsewhere. Meanwhile, the buildings that couldn’t be reused as complete units were recycled in their component parts. Asphalt, concrete and gravel were processed and sold back to the construction industry, and the fixtures that were aviation-related were purchased by an airport undergoing expansion. Upon completion, it is estimated that 92 per cent of all the City Centre Airport’s building materials will be diverted from landfills.

The first of the 30,000 residents are scheduled to move in this year.

Church transformed to library – Sainte Foy, Quebec

Monique Corriveau Library. Credit: Stephane Croleau© Stephane Groleau

A mid-century modern church in Quebec is adapted to life in the 21st century. In the town of Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Église St Denys du Plateau was readapted in 2013 into the Monique Corriveau Library, a modern public library and community centre. Originally built in Sainte-Foy in 1964, the church was, even then, architecturally innovative. Its glass walls between the descending beams created an open relationship between the congregation inside the church and the community outside, contrasting from churches’ traditional sanctity created by stone walls or stained glass.

This inclusive design is what prompted the idea for this adapted infrastructure to serve not just as a public library, but also a community centre and cafe. The building was modernized and is now equipped with the latest technology, but its structure was left intact - its vast beams and glass walls preserved – allowing it to continue being an inviting space that brings the community together.

Roundhouse turned community centre – Vancouver, BC

Formerly the home for great steam locomotives before being abandoned, the Roundhouse was fought for by Vancouver residents, and revived as a community centre. The project is one of the early examples of adaptive reuse.

For years, the Roundhouse was seen as a transportation hub for Vancouver and considered to have played a central role in the city’s growth. But, as the diesel-powered engine gained ground on the steam-powered in the 1950s, the Roundhouse was diminished in use, and was slowly forgotten.  The industrial site remained abandoned for years, and was even intended for demolition.

Thanks to the vision and perseverance of many community members nearly 30 years ago, the Roundhouse is Vancouver’s oldest heritage building still standing on its original site. It has continued to play a central role for the community, with a shift from housing locomotives to becoming a space for cultural development and a resource for recreational activities for youth, adults and seniors alike.

Former Coal Plant turned Solar facility - Nanticoke, ON

North America’s largest coal-fired plant turned to solar. Until 2013, on the shore of Lake Erie, in Nanticoke, Ontario, was the Nanticoke Generating Station, one of the largest coal-fired plant in North America and provided Ontario 15 per cent of its electricity. Then, after operating for more than 40 years, and being Canada’s top polluter for many of those, it stopped using coal as fuel.

Five years after burning its last piece of coal, the plant was reimagined and redeveloped by the Ontario Power Generation, the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, who turned the Station into a 44-megawatt clean energy facility that hosts 192,431 solar panels across 260 acres of land.

The 2017 opening of the Nanticoke Solar Project demonstrates not only the power of adaptive reuse, but also the incredible opportunity of retiring coal plants and replacing them with clean, renewable power plants.

Montreal Tower – Montreal, QC

Montreal Tower. Credit: Stéphane Brügger.© Stéphane Brügger

The Olympic Tower, one of Montreal’s most recognizable buildings, will finally be put to use. Initially built for the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games, the Tower hasn’t had a very productive after-life since then, remaining more or less empty since the Montreal Expos left in 2004.

Now, it’s been renamed the Montreal Tower and adapted into a modern office space that will be home to over fourteen hundred employees of Desjardins Group. This long-awaited adaptation was extensive and enhanced the architectural features and historic elements of the structure. Notably, removing the envelope of prefabricated concrete panels around the tower and replacing it with a glass curtain wall, bringing light, and a new sense of life to the tower’s spectacular structure.