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LANEWAY OF LIVING: Green Villages in the Heart of Toronto’s Urban Fabric
3rd prize winner in the international competition Toronto Affordable Housing Challenge (2021)
(Authors: Ana Rolim, Isabella Trindade, Beatriz Bueno and Larissa Falavigna)


How do you reconcile tackling the housing crisis in Toronto with the realities of its urban fabric and historical legacy? As an acupunctural process, we think big by acting small. To mitigate the city’s need for lower housing prices we operate on laneways, a peculiar 1870s urban typology. A total of 2,433 (310 km in length) public laneways offers an opportunity to use land and existing infrastructure more efficiently, potentially reducing urban sprawl and contributing to environmental sustainability and a vibrant public realm. Laneways are viable locations for a compact typology named “laneway suite”, a housing unit located within existing residential lots, detached from the main house and accessible from its side yard and the laneway itself.


Our testing site is in the district of Little Italy (LI), where population density is higher than Toronto. LI laneways offer a prospective housing supply that would require less site work and infrastructure upgrade than traditional housing complexes, suitable for the neighbourhood's gradual growth.


Since the 19th century, laneways have been bordered by spaces of poor architectural character. To transform this, we set personable efficient dwellings tightly networked to public spaces. By opening the ground floor for a public patio, the laneway width and visual permeability are increased. By redesigning the laneway, interaction amongst inhabitants and neighbourhood vibrancy grow. The feel of a back alley shifts to that of a small village in the heart of the city. Additionally, the architecture pays homage to Victorian houses commonly found in Toronto, presenting two roof pitch variations: perpendicular to the laneway (on corner lots) and, parallel to it (in inner lots).


The 58m2 two-story building is configured as following: ground floor with entry, covered public patio (for eventual car parking), and rear trash enclosure; basement with a flexible space, open rear patio and infrastructure (boiler and furnace); upper floor with kitchen, living, dining and balcony, and rooftop with a prefab vegetable garden and solar panels. The unit can be incremented with lateral and vertical extensions allowing for an extra bedroom. Accessible directly from the street, the basement could function independently as an office space.


Adopting the concept of incremental housing, two unit types can expand the 5mx5m base footprint laterally, adapting to different lot widths, or vertically, in lieu of the rooftop garden. In the latter, access to shared vegetable gardens would occur through party-wall openings or suspended walkways. The incremental strategy would fit different types of families and gradual changes within the same family.


We propose a four-level relationship between private and public spaces: level 1 (inward) - in domestic interiors; level 2 (inward-outward) - at basement patio, rooftop garden and balcony; level 3 (outward-inward) - ground floor covered patio, and level 4 (outward) - on the laneway, now converted into a shared street.


The laneway redesign departs from the non-alignment of bordering lots, which vary in width. Transversal non-parallel lines mark the parceling of lots, becoming landscaped areas instead of physical barriers. Helping to reduce the long proportion of laneways, these lines also mark the building entry, the 1.5m front setback (for greenery), and public patio entrance.


Adding to the front setback and greenery strips, the network of rooftop vegetable gardens generates a small urban farm. These features together improve air-filtration, cool hot temperatures down in the summer and provide healthier food, helping Toronto to be greener and more sustainable.


The building structure is a cross-laminated timber (CLT) post and beam system (5m x 5m spans; 1m x 5m increments), a renewable material that generates almost no construction waste, allowing for small crews to work efficiently.

Due to its resilience to extreme weather and pests, the charred wood exterior finish requires less maintenance than regular siding. Made from wood preserved by burning its surface, coated with non-toxic oil, it offers a unique finish.

The open floor plans, fenestration and retractable staircase skylight favour passive lighting and cross-ventilation, particularly important in pandemic scenarios. Triple-glazed low E window glass would save on electricity and heating costs, requiring less maintenance, besides muffling outside noise and limiting the amount of light penetration at night.

The residential unit is self-sufficient in regards to electricity by having four photovoltaic (PV) panels on the rooftop that assure the power needed to run a 58m2 to 78m2 home. A 10000-liter basement cistern stores rainwater, which is filtered and chlorinated before being pumped out for toilet flushing and hose bibs.

This project has been widely published including: Bee Breeders , Archdaily , Projeto Magazine and Archello

Aerial view of proposal

Map of laneways in the city of Toronto

Detail of aerial view of proposal

Ground floor plan

The proposal dwellings are actively integrated to the public space of the laneway

Incremental Housing Concept

Unit type 1: floor plans and section

Unit type 1 with increments: floor plans and section

Unit type 2 with increments: floor plans and sections

The housing unit and its parts

Sustainability diagram


The new vibrant real of the laneway

Laneway elevation

Connected rooftops

Shared vegetable gardens on the roofotp

Competition board: 3rd prize winner of the international Toronto Affordable Housing Challenge

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