A youth project helped LGA Architects understand the value of privacy

Toronto – As the second edition of the Frame Awards builds up, we wanted to check in on some of our previous winners. To start things off, we spoke with the Jury Prize winner of the Social Award, LGA Architectural Partners, about their project Eva’s Phoenix.

In Toronto, an estimated 2,000 boys and girls go to sleep without a home every night – a devastating amount made worse considering the 489 total available beds in the city’s youth shelters. Local non-profit Eva’s Phoenix looks to change that by providing them with a safe place to stay, but also a positive internal culture that can be exhibited in the outside community. LGA took on that challenge.

The chosen building, a one-story former warehouse, was built into a collection of 10 ‘townhouses’ that function as an interior urban neighbourhood. The residents who live here are youths between the ages of 16 and 24 in need of shelter. Eva’s Initiative, the non-profit behind the building, brought in LGA to create spaces that would help residents feel they were a part of a community, while also giving them a space of their own. Dean Goodman, partner of LGA, talked about the biggest lessons learned throughout the process.

What is the foundation of this urban neighbourhood? 

DEAN GOODMAN: Eva’s has a number of different initiatives throughout Toronto, and this particular one is for youth. It is legally a shelter, but it is for youth that are either trying to go to school or get credentials or get a trade.

It’s a historic building, so we wanted to make it like a town square. We put 3000 sq-f [278 sq-m] of skylights down the middle of the building and all the rooms. There are 10 houses and they’re organized kind of like a house that you would rent with friends – they’re like townhouses.

Did you reference any urban planning examples when considering ‘the square’ that you created in the project?

DG: We didn’t look at a specific precedent but instead, it’s thinking about basic urban design features, like How does a street work? What makes a neighbourhood safe? They’re really basic principles, and as architects we understand them and use them definitely.

Privacy is the most critical thing in the world

How did you discover the needs of the residents and how that would play into the design?

DG: We had numerous meetings with the residents, and one of the things the kids said is that they’ve got to have two bathrooms. And in talking to them you realize that they all are off to work or school at the same time. Eva’s is a really great organization and they said that it’s about learning how to be successful, so we´re going to figure out how to fund it. So every single house has two full bathrooms where you can lock the door, so when you go in you don’t share the bathroom. So that kind of privacy – you really understand how valuable it is. Kids who live in shelters or on the street have no privacy, nowhere you can close the door and just kind of go ‘This is my space.’ And you only find that out by talking with them.

The bathrooms are a really good example of something that gives them ownership over the space. What other elements gave them agency?

DG: The most critical thing is you do not share rooms. You have your own room and a key. Privacy is the most critical thing in the world, so no matter how hard of a day you’ve had or what’s going on, you can go in your room and lock the door. I think those are so basic and yet they’re so fundamental at the same time.

Have you noticed a shift in how architecture and spatial design are being used to approach social issues?

DG: I have noticed it. You know, I don´t think architecture can solve social problems. Does a great street make a community? No: it’s really the people. Architecture and design can help, but the problems – they are societal. But good architects are creative by design, and when good architects are interested in these issues, they work on creative ways that architecture can help.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Submissions are open for Frame Awards 2019 until September 30th! Submit your interior and spatial design projects here.


Location 60 Brant St, Toronto

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