Parkside Student Residence

Diamond Schmitt Architects converts a Brutalist hotel into amenity-rich student housing in downtown Toronto. Photography by Lisa Logan

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In downtown Toronto, with a number of colleges and universities within close proximity, quality student housing has been in short supply. To meet the demand, local developer Knightstone Capital Management enlisted Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSAI) to convert a 1970s-era Brutalist hotel into the Parkside Student Residence. By introducing natural light, a warm palette, and an array of communal spaces, DSAI transformed the precast concrete building into a vibrant, urbane environment for students. Aesthetically and functionally, this privately operated residence far surpasses traditional dorms and often-subpar off-campus housing, offering students a dynamic, amenity-rich home.

The 190,000-square-foot facility contains 620 beds in configurations from studios to five-bedroom suites. Students from a few different schools—including Ryerson University, OCAD University, and George Brown College—cohabitate in this residence.

Most recently a Best Western, the 23-story building at the corner of Carlton and Jarvis Streets had guest rooms along double-loaded corridors, allowing for fairly easy conversion to student living spaces. But Knightstone had greater ambitions for this student residence. Beyond simply offering beds and a contemporary vibe, “We wanted Parkside to help students attain their goals, both academic and social,” says Patrick Miksa, Knightstone’s vice president of academic assets.

“In design and amenities [Knightstone] sought to capture a condo- like feel with a defining aesthetic, as well as create a safe environment to facilitate active learning, interaction, and independence,” says Gary Watson, an associate at DSAI who was the Parkside project architect. To achieve these goals, the designers approached the renovation as a chance to work with, not against, the building’s Brutalist qualities.

From dark and bulky to open and transparent
The DSAI design transformed the once cold, heavy aspects of the building’s base—the seemingly hulking tower now openly engages with the streetscape along the lower floors of open student spaces. On the exterior of the second-floor volume projecting toward the street, precast concrete panels were replaced with glass. The architectural intervention allows natural light to penetrate the interior, establishing a baseline for illumination and transparency.

“We saw an opportunity to establish a dialogue with the previous architectural character of the building,” says Bryan Chartier, DSAI’s director of interior design. The interior was stripped down to its concrete ‘bones,’ which remain largely visible by design. A portion of the second-floor slab was removed to create a double-height space.

Juxtapositions of raw and finished, dark and light, and neutral and vibrant render Parkside a lively, nuanced environment. After passing through a secure entrance on the ground floor, students enjoy a series of shared spaces that progress from public to private. Concrete columns with walnut edging frame the open, double-height lounge, which includes a zigzag gray-and-red upholstered couch, large overhanging floor lamps, and a fireplace. Walnut tables offer a place to gather, and tall red chairs create intimate seating niches. A gray striated carpet, mimicking raw concrete in pattern and tone, defines this and other student spaces throughout the building, while light stone tile delineates the circulation paths.

Fostering a sense of community
Housing the gym, laundry room, and various gathering spaces, the second floor is the heart of Parkside. Here, the glass-walled lounge, or ‘glass box,’ is bookended by walnut stadium seating and a communal table. Walnut rafters alternate with red ceiling accents, echoed in the gray-carpeted floor by red ‘train tracks.’ Red-cushioned walnut alcoves offer cozy seating, and an array of chairs allow for flexible configurations for groups to gather, study, and relax.

Additional student spaces are on the residential floors above, including the third-floor outdoor terrace (where the hotel’s outdoor pool had been), dance and yoga studios, game rooms, and common kitchen pantries. The most necessary common area of all, the cafeteria, is located in the basement. Despite the lack of natural light, the cafeteria’s high ceilings, white tables, walnut booths, red accents, and polished concrete floors keep the space bright. One exposed concrete wall sports a large black-and-white stylized map of Toronto by Ork Posters. This map visually connects with bold graphics seen on the floors above, including oversized pixilated wall signage and Parkside’s red, concentric layered logo designed by branding/graphics firm Entro.

Since opening in fall 2015, Parkside has received multiple design awards as well as accolades from its student occupants. For Knightstone, the residence’s future relevance is equally important to the project’s reception. With the flexibility that DSAI’s design affords, “The facility offers dynamic space that serves students,” says Miksa. “And Parkside can be easily adapted as student needs change.”


who Architect: Diamond Schmitt Architects. Project team: Donald Schmitt; Gary Watson; Bryan Chartier; Aleksandra Janus; Stephanie Huss. Interior designer: Bryan Chartier. Engineering: The HIDI Group (mechanical/electrical); RJC Engineers (structural). Kitchen: Van Velzen + Radchenko Design Associates. Graphics: Entro Communications.
what Wallcoverings: Metro Wallcoverings; Entro. Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Laminate: Formica. Flooring: Stone-Tile International; Johnsonite; Interface. Lighting: Artemide; BuzziSpace; Bruck Lighting. Workstations: 3H. Seating: KI; Steelcase; Vitra; Cumberland; Haworth; Office Depot. Upholstery: Maharam. Tables: KI; custom. Storage: Office Depot.

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