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Tom Tran, "Urban Metamorphosis"

Architecture Studio IV (ARC362)

ARC362 students were required to design large-scale multigenerational housing structures for a site near the University of Toronto campus. Tom decided to approach the problem from the inside out.

"The main concept had to do with organic growth and metamorphosis," he says. "I tried to build the units first, and then, using those units as buildings blocks, I shaped the building — almost grew it in an organic way."

Tom decided that his building would be aimed at two demographics: university students and young workers. He designed different unit types intended to meet the unique needs of each group.

For students, he designed dormitory-style rooms with shared bathrooms. For young workers, whom he thought would require more space and privacy, he created three different types of loft floor plans: a studio loft, a one-bedroom loft, and a two-bedroom loft. All of the unit types are equipped with Japanese-style sliding screens, rather than swinging doors, as a space-saving measure.

Views of the interiors of residential units in Tom Tran's building

Tom's loft unit types.

With his unit types designed, Tom began the process of aggregating them into a functional mid-rise building with 13 storeys. On the ground floor, he used a series of steps to create a pattern that resembles a topographical map of the neighbourhood. The open, multi-level space contains a number of shared amenities, including a garden, a media room, and an art gallery.

On each residential floor, Tom planned a mix of dormitory-style units and loft-style units, all arranged for maximum density around a wide central corridor with shared amenities like elevators and study space. Some floors have Zen gardens, intended to be shared among the residents. "University students and workers both have to deal with a lot of stress," Tom says. "The Zen gardens provide very relaxing common space for everyone, and they also relate to the Japanese aesthetic of the sliding screens, which I deployed in numerous locations."

Plan of the ground floor of Tom Tran's building
Plan of a residential floor in Tom Tran's building

Top: Tom's plan for his building's ground floor. Bottom: One of Tom's residential floor plans, with Zen garden.

Tom's inside-out approach to the project's design resulted in a blocky exterior, with units jutting out from the building's sides. "The way the units are arranged doesn't allow for straightforward ground-to-top columns or beams," Tom says. "They would intersect with the units."

To resolve the structural problem, Tom designed a mass-timber exoskeleton, which both adds structural support and smooths out the building's right angles, giving its exterior a slightly curved appearance.

Elevation view of Tom Tran's building

An elevation drawing showing the exterior of Tom's building and its relationship with the adjacent heritage building.

Another design problem was the building next door: a heritage structure that students were required to incorporate into their designs. Tom's solution was to transform the heritage structure's rooftop into an extra-large Zen garden, accessible by staircase from one of his building's upper floors.

Instructor: Victor Perez-Amado