Toronto’s downtown east side was selected by the Salvation Army for its flagship facility of caring. The Harbour Light is an 86,000-sqaure-foot, seven-storey building with transitional housing, a residential addictions recovery program and supportive community and family services. Anchoring Harbour Light at the southwest intersection of Jarvis St. and Shuter St. is the Sanctuary, which is the urban element presented for consideration.
It was important that this facility, at a busy crossroads of urban activity, serve as a beacon against the wider backdrop of a cityscape that can seem impersonal and alienating to the vulnerable, and that it be able to reach out and connect wordlessly with those seeking help. The Salvation Army has developed a unique ability to blend faith and pragmatism; strategy and salvation; the pastoral and the practical. Harbour Light strove to reflect these values throughout the building and find its fullest expression in the Sanctuary, a flexible community church space. Harbour Light is a facility where people can establish their own roots in their own sense of tradition; people move from consumer to contributor; the ills of our society can be openly transformed – not hidden away. By helping people re-integrate back into society in a meaningful way, Harbour Light can also be a role model for others in the way in which it integrates health, faith, and community development.
The need to extract the greatest possible value from each component of the building was a guiding goal for the project. As a not-for-profit institution, capital and operation costs are a great concern for the Salvation Army, and any savings in facility expenses provide more funding to their programs. With this in mind, a high-performance building envelope consisting of concrete and brick was designed, offering both superior insulation and durability for the building. Combined with a tempered air system instead of conventional air conditioning and simple heat recovery strategies, the building is highly energy efficient. The Sanctuary confidently addresses the intersection of Jarvis and Shuter Streets with a single volume scaled to fit comfortably at the corner with the recognizable red brick base as evident throughout the neighbourhood. Both accessible and discrete, the three-storey volume is wrapped in a luminous façade to communicate the Harbour Light’s spiritual and humanitarian mission as a beacon of hope.
The resident program at Harbour Light is transitional where after a period of months of living in a communal setting in the north residence, clients eventually graduate to living in their own small but complete apartment in the south residence wing of the building. These components are separate masonry volumes. On the ground floor a central corridor links together program rooms, classrooms, amenity spaces, a dining room where residents can share meals with visitors, two landscaped courtyards and the Sanctuary and community church, which sits as an independent volume to the north of the residence wings. Brick masonry screens articulate the line between the public and the residents living within the protection of the centre, between the courtyards and the street.
To convey its role to the street, the Sanctuary is clad in polycarbonate panels that are backlit to produce a beacon on the corner, emblematic of the Army’s mandate as a place of hope. An illuminated veil floats above its masonry base and cuts back to reveal two crosses incised into brick, offering salvation without demanding it. The lexan veil, held off of the building envelope on anodized aluminum trusses, also lowers solar gain within the three-storey volume. Corrugated galvalum panels behind the lexan offer a maximum of insulation and a specular surface to refract light evenly across the veil.
The Sanctuary enlivens the intersection by literally illuminating it. Windows are punched into the brick base to carefully modulate view and natural light. Glimpses of the program within reveal a warm, wood-lined chamber that further imparts a glow onto the hardened streetscape. The extensive use of wood in flooring, millwork, doors and cabinetry at Harbour Light further serves to lessen the building’s institutional qualities. The Sanctuary anchors the attached residential towers and frames an inner courtyard. Its massing, luminous façade and compact scale work together to communicate the Harbour Light’s spiritual and humanitarian mission.