PROJECT: North East Scarborough Community and Child Care Centre / Perkins&Will
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Perkins&Will unveils first-of-its-kind Net-Zero Operational Carbon Community Centre in Toronto.

The City of Toronto and Perkins&Will have unveiled the design of Toronto’s and Ontario’s first-ever net-zero operational carbon community centre, setting a new precedent for resilient civic infrastructure as one of the highest-performing facilities of its type in North America.

Located in one of the city’s most culturally diverse and rapidly growing neighbourhoods, the North East Scarborough Community and Child Care Centre was envisioned as a cultural hub that could meet a demand within the community for more social and recreational programming.

To accommodate such diverse programming on a restricted site, Perkins&Will incorporated vertical stacking into the building’s layout. Through layering various amenities atop one another, the facility maximises its capacity to serve the community while also serving as a new building model for future community centres across Canada.

“Toronto is one of the most inclusive cities in the world, and with that comes significant responsibility to create dynamic spaces that reflect every community’s needs for culturally relevant and diverse programming,” says Phil Fenech, Principal in Perkins&Will’s Toronto studio.

A first-of-its-kind for Ontario, the recreation and aquatic centre is targeting net-zero energy and carbon emissions through mechanical efficiencies, such as air source heat pumps, an enhanced building envelope, and innovative renewable energy systems.

“Our design approach throughout was underpinned by Perkins&Will’s Living Design principles, resulting in a civic centre that not only promotes human and ecological well-being, but fosters community resilience, as well,” adds Fenech.

Transforming public space into a beacon for resilience

Driven by the City of Toronto’s 2019 declaration of a climate emergency, and aligning with Perkins&Will’s Living Design approach, the team saw an opportunity for the North East Scarborough Community Centre to meaningfully advance net-zero energy and carbon emission goals.  

Perkins&Will undertook a rigorous analysis to develop a comprehensive strategy, integrating various energy reduction strategies into the design, including air source heat pumps and photovoltaic thermal (PVT) hybrid panels that generate electricity and heat. Outdoors, bifacial photovoltaic (PV) parking lot canopies increase the renewable energy generation of each PV panel when compared to more traditional PV systems.

Additionally, as part of the holistic carbon reduction approach, Perkins&Will considered the embodied carbon of the envelope and structure with an estimated 16 percent embodied carbon reduction upon completion. The embodied carbon will be assessed at the end of construction to evaluate further improvements that may have been achieved during construction.

“With our climate crisis top of mind, it’s no longer sufficient for community centres to provide quality public space; they must also serve as beacons for resilience,” says Zeina Elali, Senior Sustainability Advisor with Perkins&Will. “Our strategies for the North East Scarborough Community and Child Care Centre prove you can feasibly achieve net-zero carbon goals that will create holistic, healthy environments. This state-of-the-art building demonstrates a clear path forward for other municipalities on future sustainable and resilient designs of public spaces.”

A first-of-its-kind for Ontario, the recreation and aquatic centre is targeting net-zero energy and carbon emissions through mechanical efficiencies, such as air source heat pumps, an enhanced building envelope, and innovative renewable energy systems.

Meeting a community’s needs through inclusive public infrastructure

Over a multi-year process, Perkins&Will and the City of Toronto held community consultations with the Scarborough community, 50 percent of which comprises people of immigrant descent. Through these discussions, the City and design team identified an unmet demand for inclusive community infrastructure and a collective need for amenities, programming, and green space that far exceeds what is typical in most community centres across the city.

Together, they worked closely with the community to accommodate a specific set of cultural, social, and economic needs. For example, the community used the site –parkland before design development – as a central spot for pick-up cricket games. In response, Perkins&Will expanded the gym to include the city’s first purpose-built practice cricket pitch, reflecting the wishes of the predominately South Asian community in the area.

The team also created gender-neutral changerooms and strategically located the pool away from public view for Muslim women and women-only swims.

The surrounding parkland was preserved through a series of interconnected pathways and public gathering spaces around the building, including an urban skateboard park, an outdoor playground, a basketball court, and a splash pad.

A new building typology for community centres across Canada

Perkins&Will maximised the surrounding area for park use while incorporating all the facilities the community sought through an innovative stacked design, highlighted through four programmatic layers.

The lower level hosts both a lap pool and leisure pool with double-vaulted ceilings that reveal the pools to a spectatorship above. The main floor connects various atria, allowing the public to see how all the building’s functions work in harmony. Common areas and childcare facilities make up the bulk of the main floor, creating a welcoming hub of activity.

The second floor plays host to the fitness centre and multipurpose studios encased in curtain wall windows that invite an abundance of natural light. Opening above to the upper level is a running track and access to an outdoor green roof.

Moving outdoors, the façade mirrors the interior program through three distinct material layers with variations in colour and texture. The masonry base is inspired by the landmark escarpment nearby, the Scarborough Bluffs, and provides a robust presence along the streetscape. Level two features a ribbon of windows to reflect the watershed, and the top level is wrapped in a bold gold corrugated metal ribbon, mimicking both the colour and texture found in the dense forest of the nearby Rouge National Urban Park.

Outdoor terraces carved help define the building’s various rooms, create visual breaks in the three-storey building, and bring light and park views well into the interior spaces.

“As land becomes increasingly scarce in dense urban centres, there is an opportunity to rethink the typical community centre typology. Our approach to Northeast Scarborough Community Centre proves we no longer need large swaths of land to create meaningful community hubs. While stacking programming, such as a gym on top of a pool, is rare, it can prove to be a viable new approach that will reduce a building’s carbon footprint while bringing programming that meets communities’ needs,” adds Elali.


Project Name: North East Scarborough Community and Child Care Centre

Project Location: Scarborough, Toronto, Canada

Client: City of Toronto

Architect: Perkins&Will Toronto

Principal-in-Charge: Philip Fenech

Design Principal: Duff Balmer

Sustainability Advisor: Zeina Elali

Size: 95,000 square feet

Estimated Completion: 2023

Rendering Credits: Perkins&Will