Artscape Wychwood Barns

Toronto, Ontario

Urban Form Case Study category:

Residential/Mixed Use: 50-150 Residents and Jobs/Hectare


Map illustrating the location of the Artscape Wychwood Barns bounded by Christie Street, Benson Avenue and Wychwood Avenue. Map also shows 5 minute (400m) walk radius, public transit lines and stops and bike lanes.

Location: Christie Street, Wychwood Avenue and Benson Avenue

Project Data:


Residents and Jobs per Hectare: 98
Ratio of Jobs to Residents: 1:0.4
Gross Residential Density: 14.4 units/ha (5.8 units/ac)
Site Area: 1.7 ha (4.3 ac)
Building Area: 5,575 square metres (60,000 square feet)
Land Use
Residential: 26 live-work affordable (rent geared to income) units for artists
Commercial: 14 individual artist studio units + 10 not-for-profit organizations
Park: Wychwood Barns Park
Maximum Height: 2 storeys
Transit: local bus and streetcar service
Parking: none on site
Date Completed: November 2008
Developer and Operator: Artscape
Building Owner: City of Toronto
Architect: DTAH Architects Limited
Landscape Architect: The Planning Partnership

Relevant Growth Plan Policies

Policy 2.2.2.1 (d, h): Population and employment growth will be accommodated by reducing dependence on the automobile through the development of mixed-use, transit supportive, pedestrian-friendly urban environments; and encouraging cities and towns to develop as complete communities with a diverse mix of land uses, a range and mix of employment and housing types, high quality public open space and easy access to local stores and services.


Policy 4.2.4 (e): Municipalities will plan for and implement cultural heritage conservation, including conservation of cultural heritage and archaeological resources where feasible, as built-up areas are intensified.


Photograph of a family walking towards main entrance.

The facility’s main entrance leads into the Covered Street.

Project Overview

The redevelopment of the Artscape Wychwood Barns has transformed an abandoned industrial brownfield site into a multi-purpose facility and public park, while creating a transit-supportive, pedestrian-oriented environment and high quality public open spaces. The project conserved the heritage buildings on site in a way that enlivens them with new arts, community and employment uses and demonstrates leadership in environmental sustainability. The award-winning facility successfully integrates affordable housing for artists and a diverse mix of uses into an established residential neighbourhood, and operates under a self-sustaining financial model.

The heritage buildings were originally constructed between 1913 and 1921 as five interconnected repair and maintenance barns for Toronto street cars. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operated the facility for most of the 20th century before it was abandoned in the mid-1980s. The brownfield site remained vacant for nearly two decades before being converted into a multi-use community facility.

Photograph of the east side of Artscape Wychwood Barns facility.

Five streetcar maintenance barns have been transformed into an interconnected multi-purpose
facility. Image courtesy of DTAH. Photo by Tom Arban.

Artscape, a Toronto-based non-profit organization, led the renewal project and raised the necessary funds. Artscape is experienced in developing affordable multi-tenant space for the arts and culture sector, often in repurposed historic buildings. Artscape partnered with the Stop Community Food Centre, a non-profit organization dedicated to urban agriculture and healthy food initiatives, to transform the streetcar maintenance building and storage yard into a multi-purpose facility and park.

Photograph of the streetcar barns in 1924 showing streetcars and tracks in front of the buildings.

St. Clair Car House, looking west, July 10, 1924. City of Toronto Archives/TTC Fonds, Series 71, Item 3255.

Since opening in November 2008, Artscape Wychwood Barns has become a hub of community activity, and receives an estimated 75,000 visits annually, including repeat visits. A wide range of conferences and symposia are held at the facility. The Stop Community Food Centre’s weekly farmers’ market is a year-round destination. The surrounding park offers a playground, community garden, dog park, splash pad, volleyball court, and a water source for the community to create a public skating rink in winter.

The project features:

  • 26 live-work units for artists, 14 studio units, and a community gallery (Barn 1);
  • a “covered street” that provides space for both community events and private functions (Barn 2);
  • office space for non-profit organizations and a theatre (Barn 3);
  • the Stop Community Food Centre’s Green Barn (Barn 4), complete with kitchen, a greenhouse, and a sheltered, exterior garden with a brick oven and compost demonstration site; and
  • the City of Toronto's Wychwood Barns Park.

Planning Context

The decision to transform the streetcar maintenance barns into a mixed-use community hub was the result of years of community involvement.

In 1996, the TTC indicated its intention to tear down the barns but faced resistance from neighbourhood residents who were concerned that the heritage site would be sold to private developers. In 1998, four out of the five barns received heritage property designation and ownership of the facility was transferred from the TTC to the City.  

In late 2000 and early 2001, studies commissioned by the City demonstrated that a portion of the site’s soil was contaminated, and that all five maintenance barns were structurally sound and well suited for adaptive re-use. At a community meeting in April 2001, a local city councilor introduced Artscape as a potential organization to lead the redevelopment of Wychwood Barns. The councilor and community members commissioned Artscape to conduct a feasibility study of the site, which included an assessment of the incorporation of live-work units. A community advisory group was formed by Artscape to act as stewards for the consultation process. The adaptive re-use of the existing structures as a community and cultural hub was approved in principle by City Council in November 2002.

Plan drawing showing site of Artscape Wychwood Barns and park, bounded by Christie Street to the West, Benson Avenue to the North and Wychwood Avenue to the East. The 5 barns are labelled in sequence from North to South. The Fifth Barn is part of the park, and connects the children’s play area to the East with the beach volleyball courts to the West. At the south end of the park lie the off-leash dog area and large meadow.

Artscape Wychwood Barns Site Plan. Courtesy of DTAH.

In 2003, the City of Toronto issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the lease and adaptive re-use of the streetcar barns. A request for expressions of interest (REOI) was initiated by Artscape to find other interested organizations to support their vision for the site. As a result of the REOI, the Stop Community Food Centre became a development partner and anchor tenant. Although the City’s RFP was widely advertised, Artscape was the only respondent. In January 2004, the City of Toronto awarded the lease to the Artscape team. Throughout the subsequent design phase, Artscape engaged with community residents and held charrettes to help shape the design and address concerns about potential impacts of the project.

Photograph of front door and entryway of artists’ live-work studio.Entrances to artists’ live-work studios along Benson Avenue.

Entrances to artists’ live-work studios along Benson Avenue.

Photograph through open-air Barn 5, showing brick frame of east wall in the foreground with community gardens and trees inside.

Pedestrian walkway through Barn 5.

Photograph of splash pad showing children engaged in water play.

Splash pad at the east entrance.

The City of Toronto approved Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments to enable the majority of the site to be used for a public park, with residential uses included in the repurposed heritage buildings. Construction started in March 2007, and in November 2008, Artscape Wychwood Barns officially opened.

Transportation and Transit

Artscape Wychwood Barns and the surrounding residential neighbourhood are well supported by public transit, including the streetcar line two blocks north on St. Clair Avenue West and local bus service. The neighbourhood is also pedestrian- and bicycle- friendly, with a well-connected street grid and bike lanes along Christie Street fronting the site.

Because of the barns’ proximity to both bus and streetcar routes and their focus on environmental sustainability, on-site parking is not provided at Artscape Wychwood Barns. Indoor bicycle storage is available to tenants. People who drive to the barns can use street parking or one of the nearby public parking lots. 

Public Realm and Built Form

Two mid-block connections help to knit the new facility into the neighbourhood. The facility’s main entrance leads into the Covered Street, which acts as an indoor east-west pedestrian route during operating hours. Full-height garage doors at both ends of the Covered Street can be opened to create a fully seamless indoor-outdoor connection through the site.

A second walkway through the open-air Fifth Barn provides another pedestrian route through the site, and connects to the outdoor foyer in the Green Barn. The walkway and adjacent foyer are programmed with uses that help to make the outdoor spaces lively and inviting, such as the weekly farmers’ market and a recurring beer garden event.  The walkway is lined with community gardens, and its preserved 14 foot columns, seating and gables at either end lend a porch-like setting to pedestrians. The foyer opens onto the Green Barn’s community kitchen and café, outdoor garden with bake oven and entrance to the Community Barn.

On the north side of the barns along Benson Avenue, entrances lead to live-work units with sheltered front patios. The new street trees and landscaping along the sidewalk create a comfortable, attractive pedestrian environment.

On the north side of the barns along Benson Avenue, entrances lead to live-work units with sheltered front patios. The new street trees and landscaping along the sidewalk create a comfortable, attractive pedestrian environment.

On the east side of the site, the historic barns partially enclose the east forecourt and a park playground in an L-shaped form, with artists’ studios, the Covered Street, and the theatre opening onto the outdoor spaces. The Community Gallery, which can be rented for public use, is located in the easternmost end of the Studio Barn.

The barns’ historical narrative is woven into the site with placement of historical photographs in the Covered Street, original machinery and signage located throughout the barns, and a distinctive paving pattern inside and outside the facility that marks the path of an historic streetcar track. The barns’ original brick and heritage detailing also contribute visual interest to the pedestrian-friendly urban environment. The landmark chimney is banded with five colours representing the five barns, and is designed to help with site orientation.

Photograph of open 2-storey interior space with views to the outdoor spaces and heritage elements such as masonry wall surfaces and repurposed signs from transit stations.

Covered Street in Barn 2.

Energy and Environmental Sustainability

Artscape Wychwood Barns is the first heritage building redevelopment in Ontario to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification.

Some of the key sustainable design features include:

  • Geothermal heating and cooling ground loop system located under the park
  • A rainwater harvesting and re-use system, including a 90 cubic metre cistern under the floor of the Covered Street
  • Energy-efficient lighting and appliances and water-conserving plumbing fixtures
  • Brownfield remediation

Public Partnerships and Financing

The transformation of the Wychwood TTC barns into Artscape Wychwood Barns was the result of a creative funding formula involving the contributions of all three levels of government, private donors, and charitable organizations to finance the $14.3 million construction cost.

The George Metcalf Charitable Foundation donated over $500,000 towards the Stop Community Food Centre’s Green Barn, demonstrating strong confidence in the project at its outset. The Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program, a joint federal-provincial initiative, contributed $1.82 million to the project for the 26 affordable live-work units. The City of Toronto matched the federal and provincial governments’ grants for the housing component of the project. A further $1 million was directed to the project through Section 37 of the Ontario Planning Act resulting from the construction of a condominium tower at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue. The Ontario Ministry of Culture contributed $3 million towards redeveloping the brownfield site and historic structures.

Photograph of the outdoor Famers’ Market showing people buying vegetables and an accordion player busking.

The Stop Community Food Centre’s weekly Farmers’ Market.

The City of Toronto undertook efforts to reduce capital and overhead costs associated with operating the facility.  For example, the City took financial responsibility for remediating the contaminated soil, waived fees and property taxes, and is leasing the barns to Artscape at the minimal cost of one dollar per year for fifty years. The City of Toronto owns and manages the public park.

Creative fundraising events also contributed to financing the project, including tickets to a gala opening and the sale of photographs by prominent artists depicting the pre-renovation structures.

Artscape Wychwood Barns uses a self-sustaining financial model. Artscape is financially and legally responsible for the operations, subleases and license agreements with all tenants. Artscape is also responsible for all property management and base building operations. Tenants of Artscape Wychwood Barns pay affordable rents and contribute to the programming of the building and site. Other revenue is generated through renting the Covered Street for events such as weddings, corporate events and fundraisers.

Awards

  • Zero Footprint Re-skinning Awards, Finalist, 2011
  • Federation of Canadian Municipalities Brownfields Award, 2010
  • Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Peter Stokes Award for Adaptive Re-use shared with Councillor Joe Mihevc, 2009
  • Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, Award for Environmentally Sustainable Rehabilitation, 2009
  • Toronto Urban Design Awards, Honourable Mention, 2009
  • Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, Award of Merit, 2009
  • SABMag, Canadian Green Building Award, 2009
  • City of Toronto Green Design Awards, Award of Excellence, 2009
  • Congress for the New Urbanism, Charter Award, 2009
  • Ontario Association of Architects, Design Excellence Award, Best of Show Award, 2009
  • Canadian Urban Institute, Brownie Award, 2008

 


This information was compiled to assist individuals in understanding the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, which was released under the Places to Grow Act, 2005. The information displayed in illustrations and described in the text may not be accurate, may not be to scale, and may be out of date. The Province of Ontario assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequences of any use made of these illustrations, maps or information provided. For more information on the Growth Plan visit www.placestogrow.ca.