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Making Space

Beltline Yards is designed for community. The industrial-inspired buildings stack upwards to open up pockets of activity on street level. The result? More public space and more ways to use it.


Designing the urban fabric

London-based architects Allies & Morrison joined Beltline Yards with a fresh perspective. Their experience on globally renowned projects like the revitalized King’s Cross was a perfect match for the ambition at Beltline Yards.

To the architects, a high-density masterplan designed around making is a clear reversal of the last 150 years, when industry was increasingly pushed out of the city. By mixing space for making, living, working and downtime, Beltline Yards promises to be a new kind of neighbourhood for Toronto.

Designing B.Y.
A conversation with Allies & Morrison
Designing B.Y.
The spaces between the buildings
How London architecture practice Allies & Morrison are designing a new Toronto neighbourhood, brick by brick.

In conversation with Alfredo Caraballo, Angie Jim Osman, and Dinka Beglerbegovic.

Bricks are one of the few materials that get better with age. “Bricks have more solidity, more longevity,” says Alfredo Caraballo, one of three architects designing the masterplan of Beltline Yards. “They’re built to last.”

In a way, you could look at bricks as a reflection of the design ambition at Beltline Yards. They’re incredibly long-lasting, for one. For two, they feel crafted in a way that other building materials don’t. “The unit of a brick is very in tune with craft,” says Caraballo’s colleague, Angie Jim Osman. “It feels very human. With modern systems like window walls, you don’t have that same tangible character.”

To this team of architects, a city, like a well-made piece of clothing, is something that should be mindfully stitched together. The use of bricks stitches Beltline Yards into the fabric of the city by echoing its industrial heritage, reminding us of an earlier spirit of Toronto. Before it was a city of glass and metal, it was a city of bricks. “We are very precious about details and how cities are put together,” says Caraballo. “We spend a lot of time crafting spaces while we’re designing buildings, we’re very conscious of how they sit within the city.”

At Beltline Yards, the idea of stitching things together applies not just to brick buildings, but to the spaces in between. The landscape-led approach of Allies & Morrison gives its inhabitants diverse public spaces to choose from, with tucked-away pockets and wide open spaces, each offering different uses for people of all ages. Working hand in hand with SvN in the landscape strategy, the team carefully composed a sequence of spaces, paying attention both at the shape of the spaces and the uses that will happen in them.

For example, in the park situated at the heart of the site, an old smokestack preserved on the site sits beside a new amphitheatre. The amphitheatre offers local employees a space to catch some rays during their lunch break or for the community to come together for open-air cinema. Ultimately, it’s up to them. That’s inherently what Allies & Morrison’s approach is about: creating flexible public spaces and letting the community decide how they want to use them. It’s about moving away from the purpose-built to something more nuanced, something that responds to history, context and people.

Beltline Yards thumbnail sketch
BY051The Beltline Trail will come to life with active frontages along its leafy edges. The exact retail mix is open-ended, but the plan is for these to be shops that relate to the trail, like a bike rental or a running store.
"The character is in the activity."
– Dinka Beglerbegovic

The smokestack next to the amphitheatre, on the other hand, brings us back to the idea of stitching together Toronto past and present. One of the architects on the project conducted a vast survey of Toronto’s industrial vernacular, which became the inspiration for the architectural character of Beltline Yards. “The proportions, the informality of the windows, the rhythm, the roof profiles, the oversized doors made for cars and the little doors made for people – we took from that very carefully,” says Jim Osman. “The informality of the industrial character was very much taken on board.”

In their many trips to Toronto, the London-based architects observed that Toronto is a city built around making. Although much of that industry was pushed further and further outside the city, at Beltline Yards it has remarkably stayed put. Allies & Morrison’s masterplan does more than maintain the area’s long-standing industry, it celebrates it. Beltline Yards welcomes making back into the urban neighbourhood, reimagining what Toronto can and should be in the 21st century.

The spirit of making at Beltline Yards will be felt beyond just the architecture. “The character is in the activity,” says Dinka Beglerbegovic. “It’s how the spaces in between are activated, by the makers spilling out into the covered yard. These informal collaborations, exhibitions, markets, and deliveries – all the processes involved with manufacturing – all these activities overlap, and that’s quite unique.”

BY005Open air cinema amphitheatre in the new park featuring the retained brick chimney.
“We spend a lot of time crafting spaces while we’re designing buildings, we’re very conscious of how they sit within the city.”
– Alfredo Caraballo

No Stone Unturned

The design is the result of an expansive survey of Toronto’s historic industrial architecture. From the colour of the bricks to the shape of the doors, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the design process.

BY016Beltline Yards is inspired by the traditional masonry found in Toronto's warehouse districts
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