One For All: Center for Social Innovation

A design team turns a code requirement into a building’s statement piece.

By code, all public buildings must be accessible to those with disabilities. While based on a noble ideal, the requirement is often just a box to check for builders and treated as an afterthought. The Center for Social Innovation (CSI), a non-profit co-working space, faced just such a challenge: their flagship location, located in an early 20th century post-and-beam warehouse in Toronto, was only accessible via a tiny, claustrophobic elevator in the back alley.

Photo by Révélateur Studio / A. Marthouret

Early attempts to provide an ad-hoc ramp made of 2”x 4” timber were both unsightly and too steep for most wheelchair users. The inadequate nature of the temporary ramp prompted CSI member Daniel Hall, architect, carpenter and founder of The Architect Builder Collaborative (TABC), to team up with CSI tenant, David Oleson of Oleson Worland Architects (OWA). By carefully examining and creatively interpreting the building code, they were able to devise a structure that serves as an entrance, staircase, stadium seating, a podium, informal meeting space and of course, a ramp.

Photo by Révélateur Studio / A. Marthouret

The team enlisted the help of Michael Jewett, a urologist, client of TABC and historic preservation fanatic who has been salvaging reclaimed timber from demolished buildings around the GTA for years. For this project he procured timber recovered from an old manufacturing building in Toronto’s east end. “Ours is a vision of a world where ‘more is more.’ The ramp is more than a ramp, it’s a stage, a podium, a playground, a quiet spot to chat, a bleacher at a show,” says Hall. “It breathes new life into old wood, it calls upon the best from our craftsman, it enlists the Ontario Building Code as a source of design inspiration instead of a set of rules and limitations. It invites us to think of ramps as places to be, places for all, not just for ‘others.’”