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Feb 17 2022 Event /

UofT Daniels | Tower Renewal and Overcoming Canada’s Retrofit Crisis (George Baird Lecture)

6:30 - 8:00 PM


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Thu, Feb 17/22 – 6:30pm to 8:00pm

This year’s George Baird Lecture, Tower Renewal and Overcoming Canada’s Retrofit Crisis: Research/Advocacy/Practice, will be given by Toronto-based architect and Daniels alumnus Graeme Stewart, discussing his work in housing renewal with Ya’el Santopinto of ERA Architects and the Tower Renewal Partnership.

Canada’s thousands of modernist apartment towers are the backbone of its purpose-built rental housing system and represent more than half of all high-rise units in the nation. In the context of growing global challenges, this legacy housing is at risk, requiring strategic transformation.

Initially conceived as research at the Daniels Faculty, the deployment of Tower Renewal has grown as a critical component of Canada’s $15-billion National Housing Strategy Renewal Fund. It has resulted in groundbreaking projects such as the recently completed Ken Sobel Tower in Hamilton, Ont., the world’s largest residential Passive House retrofit.

Showcasing the evolution of Tower Renewal through a critical program of research, advocacy and practice, this talk will outline the design, process, finance and industry advancement required to scale efforts for this legacy housing to meet the acute challenges of inequity, public health and decarbonization required of 21st-century urbanism.


Graeme Stewart OAA FRAIC CIP RPP CAHP is a Toronto-based architect and urban planner. A principal with ERA Architects, he is a founding director of the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal (CUG+R), a cross-disciplinary non-profit organization to improve livability and sustainability across rural, suburban and urban environments. Stewart’s career to date has largely focused on a critical issue facing Canadian cities: the deterioration of mid-century apartment building communities resulting from decades of neglect, policy interference and socio-economic marginalization. He is arguably the single reason “Tower Renewal” is a term familiar to Canadian architects.

Stewart’s contributions to Tower Renewal began through graduate school research and continued through professional practice, policy development and implementation in partnership with CMHC, the Government of Ontario, various Canadian municipalities, NGOs, Canadian universities and international partners. He led the creation of Toronto’s first “Tower Renewal Zoning” (Residential Apartment Commercial/RAC), established Toronto’s Tower Renewal program, and through ERA and CUG+R continues the advancement of the initiative through public policy advocacy and overseeing the retrofit of over 1,500 housing units in Toronto and beyond.

Ya’el Santopinto OAA FRAIC is an architect and Director of Research for the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal. In this role, she leads the Tower Renewal Partnership, an initiative to catalyze reinvestment and community building in apartment tower neighbourhoods. Her work includes primary research and best practice development in housing renewal, ranging from energy retrofit standards to tenant rights and green financing.

Santopinto leads ERA’s decarbonization and affordable housing practice, where she oversees complex, holistic and resilient energy retrofits to convert postwar apartment towers into high-quality affordable housing, impacting thousands of households. She was the lead architect on the Ken Soble Tower, certified by the Passive House Institute as the world’s largest residential Passive House (EnerPHit) retrofit. With ERA’s specialized team, she oversees retrofits to enable health, comfort, aging in place and climate resilience.