Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Ramp project at Toronto's Centre for Social Innovation at 192 Spadina Ave.

Arnaud Marthouret/Arnaud Marthouret/Revelateur

When a project blends in so well, there is a danger. In 50 or 75 years, who will be around to tell of the thought that went into it? Who will remember the anecdotal stories that fill in the blanks? Who will fight to preserve it?

At Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation – part incubator, part lab, part co-working space, part tenanted office building, and all in for reshaping the world to become a better place – one such project exists. Here, at 192 Spadina Ave., how people enter and first experience the six-storey, 1920 brick-and-beam beauty has been radically changed, but a first-time visitor might not blink an eye.

“There’s something about our role as stewards of history,” says CSI chief executive officer Tonya Surman. “I think about this building, how easy it would be to sell it and have a developer rip ‘er down and put up a 12-storey condo.” But that, she continues, wouldn’t honour its rich history as part of Toronto’s once-booming garment district or “show the world that here was a different way, a slower way.”

Story continues below advertisement

Architectural Technologist and The Architect Builders Collaborative member Greg Papp gives the ramp a test drive.

The Architect Builders Collaborative

When CSI purchased the building in 2014, accessibility requirements needed attention immediately since many tenants and visitors are wheelchair users. However, like many other schmatta warehouses, the ‘ground’ floor isn’t really a floor at all: visitors enter from the street onto a thin landing and must choose to climb a half flight up or descend a half flight into a semi-basement. So, one of the first things purchased was a costly, key-operated lift platform at the building’s side door, which is located partway down a shadowy alley.

“And it’s so ugly, it never gets used, it takes up so much space [and] it drives me nuts,” says Ms. Surman.

So, consulting with tenant Luke Anderson of StopGap Foundation – StopGap manufactures the brightly coloured ramps that turn inaccessible shops into accessible ones – a temporary ramp was built off of the main stair. Problem was, says Mr. Anderson (a wheelchair user since a cycling accident changed his life in 2002), “it was very steep and certainly was not designed to local building codes.” So, while it did allow “people to independently and spontaneously get in and out of the building” it also caused great distress for Ms. Surman.

Detail of the waterjet cut blackened steel handrail bracket.

Kathleen Forsyth/Kathleen Forsyth/The Architect Builders Collaborative

“It’s the only time in my 17 years at CSI that I truly cried, because my team [said] ‘we need a wheelchair accessibility ramp’ and you are giving me the ugliest piece of crap you could possibly imagine and I said ‘I do not accept that everything accessible has to be as ugly as sin.”

Luckily, Ms. Surman’s building is full of heavenly, creative people.

Enter architects David Oleson of Oleson Worland Architects (a tenant of 192) and Daniel Hall of The Architect Builders Collaborative (a former tenant at CSI’s Regent Park space), who were handed the unique challenge of creating something large, utilitarian, to code, and, most importantly, beautiful.

“As I recall, even before the wood itself – I mean the wood just makes it all really special – was to try to make a landscape, to make an interior amphitheatre in a sense,” says Mr. Oleson. “And then when the wood chunks came along it just made it all come together.”

Story continues below advertisement

The wood creates multiple platforms for laptop-typers or cellphone talkers – without interfering with wheelchairs wheeling their way safely down.

Arnaud Marthouret/Arnaud Marthouret/Revelateur

And what of this “really special” wood? Well, it belonged to Mr. Hall’s client, Dr. Michael Jewett, who, by day, helps save lives as part of University Health Network’s oncology team, and, by night, rescues century-old beams from demolition sites.

Consulting with the good doctor on a laneway suite for his Cabbagetown residence, Mr. Hall casually mentioned the CSI project, and that reclaimed wood was one of the materials being discussed. Intrigued, Dr. Jewett immediately extended an invitation to visit his farm near Uxbridge: not only did he have various outbuildings constructed using reclaimed wood – a drive shed using glulam beams from the old Valhalla Inn is but one example – he also had, all stacked neatly and labelled, structural timbers from 12 Toronto buildings, most a century old and most taken down during the late-1990s and early-2000s condo boom.

“I started to cart timber up to Uxbridge on the return leg of my local building supply company truck deliveries, so they were deadheading back up, and I would have them pass by a demolition site and load timber,” says Dr. Jewett, “so I am reasonably good on the provenance of this material.”

The wood platforms also create a new area where someone might address a crowd.

Arnaud Marthouret/Arnaud Marthouret/Revelateur

To wit, the stuff he had in mind for the CSI team – which Mr. Hall says he “practically gave away” – had once held up a sturdy red brick building at the northeast corner of Dundas St. E. and Carlaw Ave., and another from Charlotte St. And, interestingly, in one of those buildings there was mixture of Southern yellow pine and Douglas fir, which placed its construction at the point where the railways opened up trade with Western Canada, since, before that, Ontarians would bring pine up via water from Georgia or the Carolinas.

Of course most visitors to 192 Spadina won’t know any of this. They might not even notice how all of that wood creates multiple platforms for laptop-typers or cellphone talkers – without interfering with wheelchairs wheeling their way safely down – or a new area where a someone might address a crowd (says Ms. Surman: “we have storytelling nights, we have speakers, we have all sorts of things”). They won’t think of the tears, the architects who brushed them away, Dr. Jewett’s passion project, structural engineer David Moses who did the math, or McWood Studios who constructed it all.

But if they think it’s beautiful, maybe their grandchildren will also, and they’ll preserve it when it becomes a century old.

Story continues below advertisement

“To me,” finishes Ms. Surman with a twinkle in her eye, “it’s art as much as it’s access.”

Arnaud Marthouret/Arnaud Marthouret/Revelateur

Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies