Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Located in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, east of the Don River, 50 Hastings originally stood in the landscape of a more industrial rural housing sprawl. At present, the contemporary urban setting of the site is now entirely encompassed by the growing city yet remains in a defined residential area with a close community feel. The mostly single-family housing stock remained undesirable until the late 90s, when the industry began to leave and new uses moved in. Typical of the rest of old Toronto, the streets were cut from the grid of farmers' fields, and blocks were divided up into small narrow lots usually not wider than 6m and between 34m - 44m long. Served by low rise east-west commercial streets Queen Street East and Gerrard Street to the north, it is a highly desirable neighbourhood of primarily modest two-story, single-family detached, semi-detached houses. Even in tiny houses, social convention required separate rooms: a linear succession of entry, living, dining and cooking functions - served from a tight hallway which, in these long narrow buildings, created cramped, dark interiors.
The project reuses part of the structure, rebuilds and adds to it. As a detached single-family home with a west-facing rear garden, the site orientation naturally allowed for the further potential of the house to be extended. The original detached house, purchased in 2000, was two stories on a basement, on a 7.6m x 42.6m lot running east to west, with the west and south-facing the rear garden and a back lane. The north wall, unusually, sat almost on the north property line. Atypically, the gable roof had the slope to the street and gables facing the side yards with an enclosed porch. The original house was built in three phases, the first with a side hall plan on a brick basement around 1905, which unusually was narrower than the lot would allow, at about 4.9m. The second stage, also with a basement, with a flat roof, was broad enough to accommodate two rooms side by side and was about 6.4m wide. A single storey on piers was added later and a large elevated deck. Zoning regulations allowed new construction to have the same setbacks as the existing ones if a percentage of the house is maintained. Demolition would have resulted in more substantial side yard setbacks resulting in a narrower house. At 6.4m, it was just wide enough for two functional rooms side by side. The new back of the house transitions into the controlled wild garden with more exuberant, boxy shapes, asymmetries and informality. The cantilevered second-floor shades the living room against the afternoon sun, so blinds do not restrict the view - and the projecting fins, like blinkers, mean that the neighbours cannot be seen or see in too easily. The situation for natural light is restricted to the east and west-facing sides, and the density of detached housing allows only for slices of light to fall through the north or south-facing sides. This condition justifies the move to open up the elevation of the west to allow for deep penetration of natural light into the space.
50 Hastings by Architect Garth Norbratenexemplifies New Wood Open Architecture by demonstrating how the history of stick frame wood construction has shaped the initial provision and ongoing adaptation of single-family dwellings in Toronto. This project simultaneously honours and contributes to the long-standing history of conventional stick frame wood construction and the organic growth it allows for as the dwelling needs of the inhabitants change. The renovation project tracks the history of previous renovations on the property while also updating the dwelling to meet the current housing needs of today. This project demonstrates the elegant simplicity of conventional stick frame construction as it allows for this natural growth to occur at a fine grain level. The small modular components that make up the addition, 2x6" studs & 4x8' plywood, can easily be cut and modified to form an exterior envelope that directly responds to site-specific conditions like sunlight, privacy and zoning regulation. Over time, these unique renovations and additions create the character of both the dwelling and the neighbourhood at large.