Student Design Ideas Competition

Towers on the Ravine, 1967-2067: Transitioning to Net-Positive Biophilic Urbanism

Enter for a chance to contribute new ideas to the sustainable transformation of Toronto’s neighborhoods and win a $1,000 cash prize!



Competition Site

Competition Site: Finch and Kipling Avenue and Humber Valley



The Ontario Climate Consortium (including the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies), the University of Toronto John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, Parallel 52, and the Centre for Urban Growth + Renewal have partnered up to co-host a student design competition to be launched at the 2017 Ontario Climate Symposium at York University.

This design competition is part of ongoing design-research, teaching and knowledge mobilization among Canadian and Dutch academic institutions and private and public sectors (See for example the 2015 Canadian – Netherlands Resilient Cities Summit: Planning and Design in a Changing Climate) around the topics of resilient cities, environmental and social sustainability, climate change mitigation and adaptation, green infrastructure, and the retrofitting of social and affordable housing. The purpose of bringing together a distinguished group of experts with students as part of the OCC symposium and design competition is to identify design research gaps and opportunities, and generate innovative ideas for further exploration.

We invite students from Toronto region, Vancouver region, and Dutch Universities in any discipline and all levels of experience to come together to participate in a design competition to develop speculative, inventive and visionary pathways to the transformation of existing urban districts into net-positive biophilic communities, in both human and environmental terms.


Cities are home to over 27 million Canadians. They are centres of innovation, education, and prosperity, as well as wasteful consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and poverty. Some of the most vulnerable communities in Canadian cities live in aging apartment towers built in the postwar decades. The Toronto area alone contains 2,000 postwar towers, the second largest concentration in North America, with over one million residents. Built in greenfields, often alongside Toronto’s ravine systems, these neighbourhoods were designed to provide high quality housing according to modernist design principles. These ‘towers in the park’ were rooted in a postwar vision of urbanism alongside nature. However, once state-of-the-art, today these neighbourhoods have not been adapted to meet today’s housing, urbanism and sustainability standards, and are often isolated from transit infrastructure, fresh food, employment opportunities and social services. The relationships of these areas to adjacent ravines have been largely paved over to make way for parking lots. The transformation of these buildings and their surroundings plays a critical role in the capacity of Canadian communities to realize sustainable urbanism, climate change mitigation and adaptation goals and social resiliency — key to ensuring the future of our urban centres.

As Canada celebrates its 150th year in 2017, change is underway. Widespread and rapid uptake of climate action across Canadian municipalities is already having a significant impact on de-carbonization, and the City of Toronto is among those leading the way (see Climate & Energy Goals, TransformTO). Tower renewal plans are also high on the Toronto-agenda (see Tower & Neighbourhood Revitalization Unit). In collaboration with 100RC, Toronto has committed to build on its existing resilience-related efforts to address climate change and the impacts of extreme weather, and work to address additional challenges such as growing inequality, aging infrastructure, and housing and transit issues (see Resilient Toronto). At the regional scale, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has developed a number programs to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Increasingly, public and private sectors, as well as research institutions and non-government organizations are asking how we can plan, design, and realize more low-carbon, social and climate resilient communities. The renewal of our existing apartment tower neighbourhoods and the rethinking of their relationships to ravine-based ecological networks, transit, employment opportunities, food, and other social services presents a key opportunity for scalable change.

In the Netherlands, energy efficiency is high on the agenda for a number of decades. Given the high-energy prices, technologies are optimized to significantly reduce the amount of energy in dwellings in an affordable way. It is even possible to transform a house in one or two days into a so-called Zero-on-the-Meter dwelling without extra costs, thanks to the Energy Performance Fee. This approach, called EnergieSprong is relevant for Canada. Several Canadian agencies, such as Sustainable Buildings Canada are working to introduce EnergieSprong to Canadian Cities and to learn from the Dutch experiences. Conversely, the Dutch can learn a great deal from the Canadian experiences. While the technologies in the Netherlands are very advanced, most of them are only suitable for the typical Dutch terrace houses primarily situated in middle and upper-middle class neighbourhood. Sustainability measures are not common yet in high-rise apartment buildings, where residents are facing many social and economic problems. Toronto-based initiatives such as the Tower Renewal Program and SNAP (Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plans) are highly inspiring for the Dutch context. These programs combine social, environmental and economic goals and their definition of net-positive urban retrofit is much broader than the limited Dutch focus on energy efficiency alone. By combining the Dutch and Canadian fields of expertise and by cooperating and exchanging experiences both countries can improve the results of their projects.


Design Competition Site

North of Finch on Kipling Avenue is one of Toronto’s most unique apartment tower neighbourhoods. Home to thirteen thousand people living in nineteen towers, it is one of Toronto’s largest apartment clusters with nearly three times the density of a downtown neighbourhood like the Annex. Sited along the Humber Valley, these towers sit in an almost pastoral setting. The result is what may be the uniquely Toronto phenomenon of the ‘Tower on the Ravine’. A product of 1960s planning, the area is defined by its separation of uses. Made up of a mostly residential strip along Kipling with institutional and commercial cores to the south, infrastructure corridors to the north and bordered by larger employment industrial zones.

Design Competition Challenge

Your challenge is to submit a visual (graphic) and informative (analytical) proposal which projects a 2067 outlook on low-carbon, social and climate resilient urban communities and defines a transition pathway (i.e. how do we get there over 50 years?) to net-positive biophilic urbanism using the competition site as an architype:

  • What is your definition of Net-Positive Biophilic Urbanism and how do you imagine the relationship between the Tower district and the ravine system?
  • How do you envision the site physically and operationally transformed over a 50-year period to meet climate change mitigation and adaptation targets, while also addressing social, economic, environmental and ecological goals and the overall improvement of quality of life?
  • What are the necessary changes at district scale and across a variety of land use types (including towers, ravine systems, single family homes, transit corridors and infrastructure, commercial hubs, etc.)?
  • What are the short, medium and long terms actions required to get to the 2067 vision?
  • What makes your proposal a socially just transition for low-income and new Canadian communities?

Design Competition Evaluation Criteria

Proposals will be scored according to the following four evaluation criteria:

  1. Innovative, inventive, aspirational, and out of the box ideas.
  2. Multi-functional design solutions that address and integrate environmental and social objectives.
  3. Clear pathway for short, medium and long terms actions and identification of actors for each phase / action: federal, regional, or municipal government, non-government organizations, community organizations, etc.
  4. District / regional approach which carefully considers the variety of land uses.

Design Competition Kick-Off

Plenary Session: The intention of this session is to set the background for the competition and present relevant government, non-government, professional and academic programs and initiatives. The panelists and jurors represent both Canadian and Dutch perspectives. The intention is that the design competition ideas serve as material for further exploration by these specific experts who are leading programs and projects to retrofit urban neighborhoods.


  1. Graeme Stewart – Principal, ERA Architects/ Centre for Urban Growth + Renewal
  2. Aderonke Akande – Manager, Tower & Neighbourhood Revitalization Unit
  3. Steven H. Heuchert – Associate Director, Development Planning and Regulation, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)
  4. Anke van Hal – Professor Sustainable Building & Development, Center for Entrepreneurship & Stewardship at Nyenrode Business University, and Professor Sustainable Housing Transformation, Faculty of Architecture of the Delft University of Technology
  5. René Schellekens – Senior advisor on Local Climate Policies, Government of The Netherlands
  6. Adriana Gomez – Senior Project Manager, Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plans (SNAP), TRCA


  • Liat Margolis, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

Design Charrette: The purpose of the design charrette (an intensive design workshop) is to provide a forum for exchange of ideas among students and experts in preparation for the design competition. Students will be led through a couple of quick exercises and then asked to pitch design ideas to receive immediate feedback from the expert panel. Remote students in the Netherlands and Vancouver will able to follow live streaming of the plenary session and design charrette.


   Dates Description
   April 10th Announcement
   April 28th Registration Deadline
   May 11th Competition Kick Off and Design Charette
   May 11th and 12th Ontario Climate Consortium’s Annual Symposium
  May 11th – May 26th Student teams work on their own
  May 26th Design proposals due by 10:00 AM (digital online submission)
  May 29th Jury Meets
  May 31st Winners announced online, and a Dutch/Canadian event during the CBGC
at the Dutch Urban Design Centre in Vancouver (prizes awarded)
  July 2017 All competition entries published online
   Fall 2017 Exhibition at UofT Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design



  • Individuals and teams of 5 people maximum need to register by April 28th, 2017* (please see registration instructions).
  • It is highly recommended, but not required that teams are multi-disciplinary to address the complex set of issues.
  • If you are seeking additional team members, please indicate on the registration form how many team members and in what programs / fields of study. Confirm that your name and contact information can be shared among the registrants.
  • Once registered, you will receive a confirmation of your participation in the event.
  • The design competition will kick off at 9:00 on May 11th at York University with a 90-min plenary session presentation by Canadian and Dutch experts (open to all symposium attendees, including remote students and faculty). The session will be followed by design charrette exercises and proposal pitches with feedback from experts (for design competition registrants only, including remote participants) from 10:30 – 12:30.
  • Digital data including base maps and other relevant information about the site will be made available through an FTP server. You shall receive the logging information on May 11th.
  • Students are highly encouraged to visit the site on their own before or after the design charrette.
  • Round tables will be provided at the design charrette for teams to begin work on their proposals*. Please bring any materials you may need to develop your solution (e.g., your laptop, drawing utensils, roll of trace paper, scale ruler, etc.). Site maps will be printed and available for students to sketch on and take away.
  • Students registered for the competition get free access to the OCC Climate Symposium, May 11th and 12th (see symposium schedule) and are invited to join the lunch, key note speeches, plenary sessions, networking reception and performance. It is highly recommended, but not required that you attend the symposium to gain a comprehensive perspective on transitioning to low-carbon and socially just future for urban communities.
  • Design proposals are due by 10AM, May 26th, 2017. You will be provided instructions for online submission.
  • Each student team must submit two (2) high-resolutions PDF format boards, 30”x42” (portrait), demonstrating ideas through original architectural drawing (plans, sections, renderings, 3D projections, etc.) and other supporting graphics. The panels may be designed to be read and displayed side by side (i.e. landscape format).

*If you have any question, or missed the registration deadline, please email Liat Margolis.


    • The panel of judges who will be evaluating your design proposals are: Graeme Stewart, Aderonke Akande, Steven H. Heuchert, Prof. Anke van Hal, René Schellekens, Adriana Gomez, Prof. Liat Margolis, and Dean Richard Sommer.
    • The winning teams will be announced online and during the Canada Green Building Council Conference at the Dutch Urban Design Centre in Vancouver on May 31st, 2017.
    • All competition entries will be published online; an exhibition at the University of Toronto J. H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design is planned for Fall 2017 (stay tuned for more details).



   Symposium Day One: May 11, 2017
   09:00 AM – 10:30 AM Plenary Session
   10:30 AM – 11:30 AM Design Charrette
   11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Design Pitches and Expert Feedback
   12:30 PM – 1:00 PM Lunch
  1:30 PM – 4:30 PM Keynote Speeches and Plenary Session
  6:30 PM – 7:30 PM Networking Reception and Performance
   Symposium Day Two: May 12, 2017
  9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Plenary Sessions (free, optional attendance)




*If you have any question, or missed the registration deadline, please email Liat Margolis.

*Note: There is no cost to participate in the Towers on the Ravine, 1967-2067 Design Workshop and Competition on May 11. However, if you would like to attend plenary sessions or presentations taking place at the Ontario Climate Symposium on May 11-12 that do not conflict with this event), please contact Simran Chattha to register for a spot accordingly, at no cost.


What can I bring into the event?
Your laptop, charger, sketch pad, roll of drawing paper or trace, drawing utensils.

What is the dress code for the event?
The competition will be taking place at a broader research symposium and thus we suggest business casual clothing.

How can I contact the organizer with any questions?
Contact us by email:

Can I update my registration information?
Yes, you can. Please email


Graeme Stewart (OAA MRAIC RPP MCIP CAHP) is a registered architect and planner and is a Principal at ERA Architects. Graeme has been involved in numerous urban design, cultural planning, conservation and architecture projects with particular focus on neighbourhood design and regional sustainability. Graeme was a key initiator of the Tower Renewal Project. This initiative in modern heritage and community reinvestment examines the future of Toronto’s remarkable stock of modern tower neighbourhoods in collaboration with the United Way, City of Toronto, Province of Ontario, University of Toronto, and other partners. Graeme is also the co-editor of Concrete Toronto: A Guidebook to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies. He is a founding director of the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal (CUG+R), an urban research organization formed by ERA and planning Alliance in 2009. In 2010, he was recipient of an RAIC National Urban Design Award for his ongoing research and design work related to Tower Renewal, and in 2014 received the Jane Jacobs Prize.

Aderonke Akande (MCIP, RPP, PMP) is the Manager of the City of Toronto’s Tower and Neighbourhood Revitalization unit which leads the City’s Tower Renewal program. Tower Renewal focuses on improving the City’s older apartment buildings and the neighbourhoods that surround them. Aderonke has been instrumental in leading the design and implementation of Hi-RIS, a $10 million financing program designed to support energy retrofits in apartment buildings. She also has a leadership role in the implementation of a number of Tower Renewal initiatives, including a partnership table on Tower Renewal champion sites. Her previous experience includes municipal policy and program development and project management. Aderonke is a Registered Professional Planner with a background in sustainable community planning practices and certified Project Management Professional.

Steve Heuchert is a Professional Planner and Associate Director of Development Planning at the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) where his responsibilities include strategic management of the environmental planning and development review services for the City of Toronto and Durham Region in Ontario.  His education includes a Masters of Environmental Planning from the University of Nottingham, England and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo, Ontario.  Mr. Heuchert has completed urban and rural planning work in New Hampshire and Florida where he focused on the integration of environmental protection and community design. He has lived in Canada, the United States and the UK, and has explored urban systems extensively in Europe and Japan.

Prof. Anke van Hal (Ph.D., MSc.) is professor Sustainable Building & Development at the Center for Entrepreneurship & Stewardship at Nyenrode Business University and professor Sustainable Housing Transformation at the Faculty of Architecture of the Delft University of Technology, both in the Netherlands. She developed a sustainable business approach (the Merger of Interests) which covers most of her work. Her main interest is the challenge of a (sustainable) transformation of existing dwellings and neighborhoods. She is the initiator, of Parallel52, the Dutch Canadian Sustainable Building & Planning network. She also initiated the knowledge platform HomeMates. This platform has as goal to integrate knowledge of human sciences into the practice of energy friendly housing renovations. Since January 2016 Anke van Hal lives partly in Toronto, Canada, where she still works for her Dutch Universities. She also taught at Ryerson University. Until her move, she was a member of the board of the Dutch Green Building Council. She wrote several books and many articles and blogs.

René Schellekens is Senior advisor on Local Climate Policies for Government of The Netherlands. His primary role is to advise municipalities on climate policy. Since 2010 there is a focus on the Build Environment. He has been involved in setting up and executing National program focused on large-scale investment of house owners in energy renovation of their homes. Lately, there is a focus on value creation through energy renovation and energy poverty within the energy transition in The Netherlands. Mr. Schellekens has been instrumental in setting up a Community of Practice with 15 municipalities concerning Energy transition for low-income households.

Adriana Gomez, a licensed Professional Planner and Engineer, brings to the table 16 years of experience in Sustainable Communities, Parks Planning, Green Infrastructure and Climate Change. As a Senior Project Manager for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP), Adriana has worked in the development and implementation of retrofit action plans for diverse neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area. Her projects include suburban park renewal and revitalization of privately owned open spaces, residential retrofit programs, complete streets and neighbourhood wide urban agriculture strategies. In order to make environmental transformation a reality, as part of the SNAP program Adriana has found innovative financing tools, and has implemented out-of-the-box approaches to effectively achieve behavioural change. Previously, Adriana worked at the City of Toronto, managing projects that ranged from Planning of Parks and Open Spaces, to GHG Reduction and stormwater management strategies.

Liat Margolis is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto. Her research and teaching focuses on the environmental performance of urban landscapes. Prof. Margolis is the Director of the Green Roof Innovation Testing (GRIT) Laboratory, an award winning, interdisciplinary research initiative that brings together the fields of Landscape Architecture, Urban Ecology, and Civil Engineering to study the environmental performance of green roofs, green walls, and green roof integrated solar photovoltaics. Prof. Margolis is a scientific committee member of Sustainable Canada Dialogues, an initiative on climate change policy solutions. She serves on a number of advisory committees for the City of Toronto on Green Streets Technical Guidelines, and Pollinator Protection Strategy and Best Practices. She is also a member of the University of Toronto Presidential Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability, which seeks to transform the university into a living lab and agent of change that would integrate academic and operational sustainability activities to advance learning and teaching, transform the physical campus, and contribute to the sustainability agendas of partners in the private, public and NGO sectors.

Richard Sommer is the Dean of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto and a Professor of Urban Design. Trained as an architect and urbanist, he has over twenty-five years of experience as a educator, practitioner and theorist. His research, writing and design practice take the complex physical geography, culture, technology, politics, and historiography of the contemporary city as a starting point for creating a synthetic, cosmopolitan architecture. His professional and academic activity in urban design is diverse and includes serving from 2005 to 2010, as the O’Hare Chair of Design and Development and as a Visiting American Scholar at the University of Ulster, Belfast. In this capacity, he worked with government agencies, academics, and other groups to develop proposals for the design of Northern Ireland’s cities and towns as they emerge from “The Troubles.” Before being appointed Dean at the University of Toronto in 2009, Sommer was the Director of Urban Design Programs and a member of the design faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Design for a decade. He has also held many other distinguished appointments, including serving as Scholar-­in-­Residence at the California College of the Arts from 1995-­98 and as a Visiting Professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1993-­95.





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