2012 SAB Awards Winning Project - 40R Laneway House, Toronto


The conversion of this 19th Century industrial shed to a small, 79m2 footprint single-family home on a laneway in midtown Toronto makes a case for a strategic approach to urban sustainability and revitalization.
Located tight to the property lines on three sides and with an access easement on the fourth, no new windows or openings in the facades were permitted by the building code. This restriction initiated a design strategy that revolved around drawing light, air and views from above, resulting in a house with unique spatial complexity.

The roof is carved away to provide light to the interior. VELUX skylights are an integral part of the passive daylighting and ventilation. Lighting is by COOPER LIGHTING .

With the owner and architect equally concerned with ecological, economic and social impact, the design intent was to focus principally on passive strategies, both for economy and durability over the long term. An interest in the history of the building and its context led to a commitment to retain or reuse as much of the existing building as possible, in particular the quilt of steel panel cladding.

Beginning its life as a blacksmith’s shop serving the North Toronto Railway Station in the early 1880s, 40R remained in industrial service for over 120 years. The salvage and re-use of the building’s steel cladding and rolling steel door are both practical and poetic: they evoke the shed’s history and knit it into its context of both residential and light-industrial use; along with the low-VOC stained plywood and sustainably-harvested cedar that clad the remainder of the building, they are suitably durable materials for the laneway site.

The tight laneway dimensions made for an interesting design challenge of careful rehabilitation and three-dimensional problem-solving. The building footprint measures 3.6m x 12.2m, on a lot of only 6.1m x 12.8m. The portion of the site not occupied by the original building is designated as a right-of-way at grade, resulting in a second-floor cantilever. The building sits tight to the property lines on three sides. These ‘zero lot line’ conditions set restrictive parameters on the exterior envelope, meaning growth of the building was limited to adding height, and no glazed openings could be added to exterior walls.

The inseparable design and sustainability strategies rely heavily on carving away parts of the interior to make light-wells and an interior courtyard, and using the roof plane to supply light, ventilation and outdoor amenity. Light shafts that bring light from the roof down to the ground level double as ventilation stacks in a passive cooling system. Operable venting skylights at the top of the light shafts release warm air drawn up from the ground level and through operable clerestories in the second-floor bedrooms.  Superior building insulation and radiantly-heated floors contribute to lowering the environmental impact of the house.

In keeping with the City of Toronto’s goal of reducing impervious surface and storm-water run-off, all available ground surface is planted, and there is a partial green roof. Storm-water run-off from the rooftop terrace and green roof is piped to a ground level cistern, which is then used to irrigate the roof garden and ground level planting.

Project credits:

  • Client  Elena and Jorge Soni
    Architect  superkül
    General Contractor  Boszko and Verity Inc.
    PhotoS  Tom Arban / Lorne Bridgman

Jury comments: The densification of our cities is one of the most important sustainable design strategies. This project illustrates that the development of even small, less prominent sites can enrich the urban environment. The mostly reclaimed materials have been manipulated in an artful and aesthetically pleasing way, while the reconstruction of the ground plane in the form of a green roof provides valuable outdoor space on a tight site.

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