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Levitt Goodman Architects’ Scarborough Child and Family Life Centre for Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. 'We wanted something that felt really special to the community,” says architect Dean Goodman, 'that’s why it doesn’t look like a regular building.’

How do you make a building smell really good?

Easy: Build it using "tons and tons of natural materials," says architect Dean Goodman, heat it with a clean geothermal system hidden under the parking lot, and create a "whole glass edge" along one wall that doubles as a corridor and a fresh air injection system.

All the well-scrubbed and talcum-powered little ones bouncing around don't hurt, either.

Wrapping around the corner of Galloway and Kingston roads, Levitt Goodman Architects' Scarborough Child and Family Life Centre for Native Child and Family Services of Toronto is a masterful little 10,000-square-foot building that's tough as nails on the outside, and warm and woodsy on the inside.

Married to a heritage home on one end and surrounded by low-rise buildings, it's also respectful of its surroundings. And while it's mostly a child-care centre, many other things have been going on since its doors opened in October, 2011: "One of the really interesting things I've found working with Native Child over the years is every building is a community centre," says Mr. Goodman.

"It doesn't really matter what the main focus of it is, it's always about the whole community."

And while it speaks to the olfactory on the inside, a walk around the building's exterior reveals three design languages aimed at different segments of the community. To the rougher, noisy, heavily trafficked Kingston-Galloway corner, the long, two-storey building presents itself sheathed in Cor-Ten steel armour because, explains Mr. Goodman, NCFS Toronto executive director Kenn Richard asked for something that "can take some abuse." A discreet, no-nonsense entrance leads from Kingston Road straight into the basement so that high school-aged kids attending classes don't have to associate with the tiny tots and moms on the main floor.

Further up Galloway, a chink in the weathered, orangey armour allows for a wide, welcoming entrance that accommodates multiple "SUV strollers"; this canopied area also acts as the link to the attached heritage home, a Gothic farmhouse built by English immigrant Richard Eade for his family in 1877. Fully restored and in use since NCFS purchased it in 2005, the softer look of Mr. Eade's polychromatic brickwork and gingerbread trim aligns nicely with private homes on the leafy street.

Lastly, the west side of the building, just barely visible from the street, is a protected sanctuary for the daycare. Dressed in board-and-batten, this slightly curved wall – with its "glass edge" of windows and doors – combines with fencing to enclose a long yard. On the other side of the fence is a small, forested area that supplies wonderful views; sadly, NCFS has been unsuccessful in purchasing this lot to ensure it stays undeveloped. Landscape architect Scott Torrance has incorporated long, asphalt "trike route" so kiddies "can go barrelling along," says Mr. Goodman, a deck with a chalkboard-faced storage area, and a dry river swale. The grass-and-rock swale collects rainwater from the roof and hardscaping, and then slowly releases it into the ground so as not to "overcharge the city system."

Inside the building is a riot of wood, whether at the reception area, in the basement or upstairs. Plywood wall boards, glulam beams and posts have been left raw, as have bolts, electrical conduits and fittings. Similarly, on the second floor, roof trusses made from "regular house trusses that were upgraded" have been left fully visible, as have their little metal connector plates. "We wanted to try and use those real, off-the-shelf materials," explains Mr. Goodman. "It's like being in the attic."

"What more could you want?" asks youth worker Kevin Fujita. "It's beautiful this way."

Providing colour variety are blue acrylic pendants over a purple stairwell, and cabinet doors in daycare rooms dressed in blues, yellows and salmons. Big, sill-less windows drop right to the floor so little ones can see outside, and half-walls facing the glass-walled corridor ensure daylight pours into the rooms from the other side of the building; doors along this wall are short enough for an adult to peer over, but tall enough so children won't cry for their parents after they've been dropped off.

Aboriginal or not, all children learn native songs and teachings, and items are labelled in both English and Ojibway. "The kids are teaching each other their cultures," says Mr. Fujita with obvious pride. "One of the Chinese children comes and learns Ojibway, and he's teaching them Chinese – that's awesome."

It is awesome, and quirky, too, just like the building: Driving past, a non-native person might see it as barn-shaped, while a native understands the shape as that of a traditional longhouse. Inside, things are so tightly programmed and materials so raw and jumbled there's a sort of controlled cacophony at work, which suits Mr. Goodman just fine: "It's eclectic and you photograph it and things are hanging out and [there are] steel connectors and junk …" he trails off with a laugh. "As an architect, I'm not against weird materials mixing – that's okay." Some buildings, he adds, are so slick that "everything's got to look like it never happened."

The true test is how the community responds, and this building is a hit: "They've taken ownership," finishes Mr. Goodman.

It also smells fantastic.