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Justice facility as urban citizen

Public buildings – including police stations – should be designed as civic landmarks and contribute to the community fabric.

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Large or small, each addition to the urban fabric has an impact on how we perceive a city – its patterns, scale, materiality and texture. Together, these things define the public realm. Unfortunately, most urban interventions miss the responsibility and opportunity to participate in city building. How much richer can we make the urban fabric if we design buildings that meet the dual objective of satisfying client need and contributing positively to the public realm?

Let’s take a look at a justice facility as an example. How can the design of community-based justice facilities – once fortress-like and imposing – challenge the status quo and breathe new life into the communities they serve?

Law-enforcement architecture creates potent civic landmarks within our communities.

A carefully designed police facility can support the public realm in the same way policing activities support community involvement. Together, the ideas of community policing and urban regeneration are completely compatible; they restore confidence in our communities through a strong positive presence.

We achieved that essential balance with Toronto Police Services’ 11 Division, a police station designed to become a living part of the community fabric. This week, 11 Division was recognized by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada with a Certificate of Merit in the 2014 National Urban Design Awards competition.

So, how did we achieve success with 11 Division?

The site identified for the new 11 Division included the former Carleton Village Public School in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. The school had seen generations of local residents pass through its doors, and so was deeply embedded in the heart of the community. The challenge? How could we incorporate a 98-year-old school into a contemporary new police facility?

Community engagement was key. We worked closely with the community to develop a design strategy that would retain the iconic soul of the abandoned school while also balancing the contemporary needs of a modern police force.

In all of our consultations, members of the community told us how valuable the project was to them. So we wanted to ensure that the finished building would be open and welcoming for the community.

We maintained the oldest portion of the school, constructed in 1913, and demolished the 1960s addition to make way for the modern facility. While many people might not think of police stations as inviting, we took advantage of the school’s urban form and prominent site to develop two significant spaces for the community’s continued use: the main entrance lobby complete with exhibit space and the Community Room located in the former school library. On the exterior, extensive landscaping includes a landscaped civic plaza and a fully restored community park. Everything about the design illustrates the Toronto Police Services’ desire to be a good neighbor.

This is just one example of how justice facilities can contribute to city building. Join us at the Fairmont Winnipeg at the RAIC 2014 Festival of Architecture, Friday May 30th from 10:30 am - 12:00 pm where we will continue to explore these and other ideas that bring together design and community building.

Click HERE for more information.

Michael Moxam is an architect and vice president based in our Toronto office.

A carefully designed police facility can support the public realm in the same way policing activities support community involvement.

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