Urban Design

Winner, RAIC National Urban Design Award, 2006

Summary

This project seeks to explore how contemporary ideas of ‘garden’ and the act of gardening can not only shape the landscape but also inform and form the architectural proposal at three scales: urban, building and unit.  A ‘live-work’ development incorporating a mix of residential and commercial uses (i.e. residential units for low, middle and high income residents in addition to commercial/office space) is envisioned for a 3.91-hectare brownfield site at 100 Landry Avenue, Ottawa (in the former City of Vanier).  Phytoremediation is proposed to remove site soil contamination. (Read more about proposed remediation measures here). The ‘garden’s’ dependence on connections of water, light, soil and air, is expressed as an interweaving of interior and exterior spaces.  This inter-weaving is realized as series of courtyards at three scales: urban, building and unit.  The development wraps around a community park. Buildings ranging in height from three to seven stories enclose courtyard gardens, and units open into private exterior gardens that extend living/work space.  Public circulation is exterior and weaves its way through green spaces both at grade and on pathways over ‘green roofs’.

Project Description

The neighbourhood surrounding 100 Landry, known as ‘the South of Beechwood’ community, is predominantly residential, typically modest one or two-storey houses and three-storey low-rise apartment buildings. A 14-storey slab condominium apartment building sits on the west side of the site.  To the east sits a one and a half storey school.  Historically, Vanier is one of the lowest income areas in Ottawa; 80% of the South of Beechwood community is ‘affordable’ (i.e. low cost) rental property.  The City of Ottawa has designated the site as a brownfield.  Heavy metal soil contamination dates back to when 100 Landry was the site of a Dominion Bridge Foundry.  A developer proposes to build 773 residential units in three high-rise apartment buildings (16, 24, and 30 stories high) and 152 townhouses at 100 Landry.  This studio project was conceived, in part, as a ‘counter proposal’ to the proposed development.  The South of Beachwood Community Association (SOBE) voices numerous objections to the project including loss of green space, loss of sunlight (due to shadows cast by the proposed high-rise buildings), and traffic increases (which residents fear will exacerbate current congestion).  A significant concern centers on how the site soil contamination will be remediated and its associated health risks. At the root of the concerns about loss of green space, sunlight, and increased traffic congestion, is the fear that as proposed, the development will lead to further deterioration of the neighbourhood and loss of property value.

 

The ‘garden’ concept reflects and reinforces the interests of the existing community.  A walking tour of the neighbourhood reveals that despite the fact that (according to statistics) few residents are land owners, there is significant evidence of not only an interest, but real pride in gardening.  Neighbourhood gardens range from simple rows of brightly coloured, potted geraniums to extensive displays of perennials in front of houses and apartment buildings.  Grape arbours and vegetable gardens are visible in side and back yards.

 

While an environmental report is under consideration by the Ontario government, precise information regarding the nature of site soil contaminants and their concentrations is not available. Typically foundry soil is contaminated with heavy metals that include nickel, zinc, and cadmium.  The conventional practice is to excavate and dispose of contaminated soil (in this case the top five feet).  Heavy metal soil contaminants are most toxic to humans when inhaled, ingested, or in direct skin contact.  Phytoremediation significantly reduces soil clean-up costs, and also does not expose site workers and area residents to air-borne soil contaminants.[1]  In addition, by treating soil in-situ, soil structure and microbiology are left intact.  This project proposes that the entire site is planted with Brassica juncea (wild mustard), a heavy metal hyper-accumulator.  In order to accommodate site surface water and prevent runoff or percolation of contaminated leachate to groundwater, the site will be re-graded to form a central depression.  The depression will be planted with a dense grove of fast-growing hybrid poplars (also a heavy-metal hyper-accumulator) surrounded by an outer ring of slower growing hardwood trees (maple and oak).  Construction could start as early as six months after the first planting.  After twenty years, the short-lived hybrid poplars will die and the poplar grove will disappear.  A ring of hardwoods will be left around the site depression which will have become a community park with a central storm water retention pond.

 

Heights of proposed buildings are in keeping with the character of the existing neighbourhood and vary from three stories to seven stories without sacrificing density.  Units run the full depth of each building. Operable fenestration walls blur boundaries between interior and exterior and provide natural ventilation.  Grade level units are configured so that they can accommodate commercial or residential uses.  All units are configured to accommodate live-work (i.e. work from home).  Parking is provided both on the street and under buildings/courtyards.  Architectural details interact with the elements.  “Finishing ends construction, weathering constructs finishes… In the time after construction, buildings take on the qualities of the place wherein they are sited, their colours and surface textures being modified and in turn modifying those of the surrounding landscape.”[2]  Water rills celebrate the collection of rainwater, flowing down building facades and through garden courtyards, directing site runoff to the site depression (initially a poplar grove and later a storm water retention pond) where surface contaminants are metabolized by plants and do not percolate into groundwater.  Trellised facades (facing west and south) activate the buildings’ interiors with changing patterns of light while mitigating heat build-up.

 

This architectural proposal has the potential to benefit all sides in a typically adversarial urban relationship between developer, architect, environmentalists, neighbours, and planning authorities.   Both the local community and the greater City of Ottawa will reap the benefits of a detoxified, revitalized South of Beechwood neighbourhood.


[1] U.S. costs in the year 2000 are estimated at $150-350 per ton for excavation/disposal versus the consensus estimate of $25-100 per ton for phytoremediation (source: Glass, David J. “Economic Potential of Phytoremediation” in Phytoremediation of Toxic Metals: Using Plants to Clean Up the Environment, Ilya Raskin and Burt D. Ensley, eds. (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York, 2000), 24..
[2] David Leatherbarrow and Mohsen Mostafavi. On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time (The MIT Press: Cambridge, 1993) 5, 69.