Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works

24 Jan

I thought I would share an essay I wrote for my sustainable design course I took last fall. Admittedly, it is not my finest piece of writing, but it is such an exciting project, that I don’t really care!

I guess I should also mention, that I lived most of my life within 20 minutes of the Brick Works, so I have a definite connection to the site. I think this project will do a lot to reorient Torontonians back to the city’s most important natural feature, besides Lake Ontario, the city’s vast ravine system. It also provides an exceptional example of adaptive reuse.


The Evergreen Brick Works is one of the most exciting and unique projects currently being developed in Toronto. It is a mixed-use community centre whose primary focus is on environmental sustainability. The complex houses a farmer’s market, a plant nursery, gardens and greenhouses, community and art space, office space for socially and environmentally conscious enterprises, a community food program, camps and leadership programs for at-risk youth, recreational activities, and a health centre. The project aims to serve the wide-range of local residents who live near the site, while creating a new landmark in Toronto’s often forgotten ravines. Evergreen seeks to demonstrate new sustainable design practices to make our cities more healthy and environmentally friendly.

The Evergreen Brick Works is located just northeast of Toronto’s downtown core. It sits at the bottom of the Don Valley, adjacent to the Don River, and is surrounded by steep, forested ravines. The close proximity to the Don River, makes the Brick Works part of the river’s floodplain. The Brick Works is also located within an important transportation corridor, where the Don Valley Parkway and the north-south CN rail lines run right beside the site. The Brick Works is also situated very close to a number of diverse communities; including some of Toronto’s wealthiest and most notable neighbourhoods such as Rosedale and Cabbagetown, and in proximity to some of Toronto’s poorest and densest neighbourhoods, including Regent Park and St. Jamestown.

Historic Don Valley Brick Works

The Don Valley Brick Works was active from 1889-1989, where bricks were quarried and manufactured to build some of Toronto’s most distinguished buildings. The Don Valley Brick Works was one of the largest and longest running brick manufacturers in the country. In the late 1980s, the quarry had been exhausted and production ceased. Subsequently, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) expropriated the property; the site was rezoned to open space and parkland to ensure the historical, ecological and archaeological value of the land was protected.

The Don Valley Brick Works is composed of 16.4 hectares of land, with 11.5 hectares allocated to the Brick Works Park, and the remaining 4.9 hectares are a part of the industrial pad. The park is operated by the city, but ownership remains with the TRCA  and is considered public property. Restoration of the park began in 1994, with the quarry being converted into a series of ponds that feed into the Don River. The site went  through significant landscaping, with the introduction of local flowers, trees and shrubs into the park. The Brick Works Park includes wetlands, meadows, dense forest and slopes.

The industrial pad consists of 16 industrial buildings and large swathes of concrete where the bricks were manufactured and transported. The buildings and the old machinery were abandoned following the closing of the Don Valley Brick Works, leading to significant dilapidation. The buildings and old infrastructure continue to hold significant historic and cultural value, which were designated as heritage structures by the Ontario Heritage Act in 2002.

View of the industrial pad

In 1997, the national charity Evergreen was granted stewardship of the Brick Works. Evergreen’s mandate is “to bring nature back to our cities.” Evergreen proposed redeveloping the industrial pad into a new mixed-use community centre, that brings together nature, culture and community. Evergreen sought to create a year-round destination, which would be at the forefront of sustainable design, and would actively promote more healthy, green, urban living. Their vision was to readapt the old industrial buildings to create a new environmental educational facility and to build a hub for the Canadian green cities movement.

The development and design process was a highly integrative approach, that brought together members of Evergreen, the City of Toronto, the TRCA, the Ontario Heritage Trust, and an alliance of architects, designers, engineers, planners, environmental and transportation consultants, local stakeholders and the general public. A series of workshops and design charrettes were held to develop a Master Plan for the site of the industrial pad. The design process emphasized that this development had to ensure that the environmental impact of this project would be minimized through state of the art green design. A group of architectural firms, led by duToit Allsopp and John Hillier, were hired to execute the ambitious vision for the new Evergreen Brick Works.

Architectural rendering of the Evergreen Brick Works

The architects adopted the LEED rating system to ensure their design and building practices were environmentally sustainable. The Evergreen Bricks Works reused and readapted the former industrial buildings, and integrated one new building into the complex, which is LEED Platinum. The project promotes active transportation, connecting the site to local bike and walking trails, and provides the facilities to lock and store bicycles. They designed a highly sophisticated storm water management system, with a series of canals that collect and filter runoff, and then connect with the Don River. Planting was also used throughout the parking lot to allow rainwater to be absorbed. There are also green roofs on a number of the buildings that are connected to cisterns that collect runoff, which is then reused for irrigation. Native species of plants were introduced throughout the site to ensure water consumption would be minimized. The Brick Works also uses renewable energy, with both solar thermal and solar electric panels. It also has an extensive recycling program and on site composting. Furthermore, salvaged materials were reused, 75% of construction materials were recycled, new construction materials were selected based on their recycled content, and preference was given to regionally made materials. With these initiatives, the Brick Works complex has attained LEED Gold status.

The Evergreen Brick Works, however, has gone beyond the standard LEED rating system. Evergreen is collaborating with the Canadian Green Building Council to develop and test new sustainable building techniques, with a strong focus on heritage conservation. They prioritize restoration, conservation, education and environmental performance in their exploration for new sustainable design standards. The Brick Works is particularly unique because not only has the project used cutting-edge green building techniques, the site also houses the Centre for Green Cities which will continue to research new sustainable design measures that can be reapplied to the Brick Works site. The Evergreen project has laid the ground work for an ongoing and evolving project whose main purpose is to study and apply sustainable design practices.

Centre for Green Cities

Brick Works is currently in its infancy, having only officially opened last fall, but has already become a notable attraction for both local residents and tourists alike. Beyond the cutting-edge green design that has been utilized in its construction, the Brick Works has changed Torontonians’ outlook on the city’s natural environment. The Evergreen Brick Works has reoriented Toronto back to one of the city’s most important natural systems, its ravines and valleys. It has successfully readapted and re-imagined one of Toronto’s forgotten spaces and reconnected us with the natural and urban environment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: