Native Child and Family Life Centre

A Community’s Cultural Values Find Expression Through Design

How do you reflect urban Aboriginal identity in a contemporary physical environment? Achieving this was one of the goals for the Native Child and Family Life Centre project which was completed in 2011. Designed by LGA Architectural Partners with landscape architecture by Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc., the project demonstrates how economic, social and environmental objectives can be achieved with a close partnership between a social organization and a creative, thoughtful, and caring design team.

The client for the project was Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST), a not-for-profit organization founded in 1986 to serve Native families and children in the Toronto area. A leader in the field of Native human services in Canada, NCFST strives to provide a life of quality, wellbeing, caring and healing for the Toronto Native Community. It does this by creating a holistic service model that is culture-based, respecting the values of Native peoples, the extended family, and the right to self-determination. NCFST’s wide range of support services includes an Aboriginal Head Start Program; an Ontario Early Years Centre; the Aboriginal Care Team (addictions); youth programs, outreach and transitional housing; summer camps; and children’s mental health services.

Native Child and Family Life Centre in Scarborough

Native Child and Family Life Centre in Scarborough

The Native Child & Family Life Centre was designed as a response to the need for a culturally specific gathering place in Scarborough that could provide childcare and community services. The project objectives were to:

  1. Support NCFST’s delivery of holistic, culturally-based services to the entire cross-section of its community.

  2. Embody Native philosophies of environmental stewardship and achieve a triple bottom line of sustainability that encompasses environmental, social and economic performance.

  3. Design a building that feels culturally appropriate to a range of Aboriginal groups (even though there is no ‘pan-band’ building type or character) and project a proud, positive image of Native culture to both its users and the broader urban community.

Environmental Impact

As the facility is owned and operated by this not-for-profit organization, it was a high priority to have energy efficiency and cost savings factored into the design plan. This project adaptively re-uses an existing Victorian house – a waste-reducing strategy in itself – and combines it with a new addition, composed largely of renewable wood building materials such as glulam, post & beams, prefabricated roof trusses, and interior finishes. The facility was designed as an adaptable environment that could offer a variety of services in flexible, multi- purpose space.

During construction, waste reduction was targeted with a goal of recycling or salvaging at least 75% of non-hazardous construction debris by mass to divert it from landfill.

The building is designed with operable windows to ensure a flow of fresh air, to take advantage of natural cross ventilation and to provide natural day lighting. All artificial lighting required for the facility is provided by energy efficient compact fluorescents. Among other sustainable design features are the prefabricated timber roof trusses that were prepared off site and then craned into place. This approach saved on-site installation time, thus providing a cost saving for NCFST.

One of the main goals for the interior was to design a healthy human- centred building environment using non-toxic materials. The design team accomplished this by minimizing the use of drywall; eliminating PVC or vinyl floor surfaces; using low V.O.C. paints, glues and sealers to reduce off gassing; and including many operable windows for natural daylight, cross ventilation and views out to the garden.

A high-efficiency geothermal system produces 100% of the heating and cooling, significantly reducing reliance on electricity and fossil fuels. Although the decision to use geothermal energy represented a larger capital investment for the project with a system payback period of nine years, overall the geothermal heating technology will save the client $10,000 a year in operating costs, and more than $200,000 in total costs in 30 years time, once replacement and operating costs are factored in.

Rainwater collected from the roof and site is directed to a rainwater infiltration swale (bioswale). It retains the first 5mm of each rainfall and promotes infiltration of storm water back into the water table, filtering 80% of run-off suspension. The bio-swale is a prominent element in the naturalized play area of the garden, which is planted with native vegetation, grasses and a teaching garden.

The location of the Centre is well integrated with the public transportation system and central to its catchment area. This encourages children and families to walk there, reducing demand on automobile usage and infrastructure. Pedestrian and walkability strategies have also been integrated into the project with barrier-free sidewalk and walkways, connections to existing sidewalks, parking & transit stops, as well as a covered outdoor waiting area with pedestrian-specific lighting.

In order to reduce the urban heat island effect at grade, the building design and landscape planning take advantage of existing shade trees along the western property line. They provide ample shade for the children’s play area and effectively protect against west sun exposure. Combining this with a high-albedo play surface and sod, means that the heat island effect is significantly reduced.

Cultural Impact

The facility is an expression of urban Aboriginal identity in built form. The curvilinear building is an interpretation of a traditional Haudenosaunee Longhouse and evocative of an upturned canoe. The pre-rusted Corten steel roof folds down to become the principle street façade. Its ‘underside’, facing the garden and woodlot, has a softer appearance featuring an expressive timber roof and canopy that allude to the interior’s innovative timber construction.

The interior of the two-storey Centre is welcoming and deliberately non-institutional, with visual statements and natural, regional materials that create an atmosphere the Aboriginal community can identify with. The design places the community programs at the heart of the building and balances the needs of each program with dedicated and multi-purpose spaces, creating the right proximity between complementary uses. The innovative building layout fosters an inclusive and engaged community – for example, by enabling parents to attend classes while their children are in childcare, and by providing a hub where the community can gather for ceremonies and celebrations.

Kenn Richard, NCFST’s Executive Director, stresses the importance of the Centre beyond simply providing childcare:

“This project presents a bold Aboriginal identity and a strong statement about self determination and Native presence in an increasingly competitive and ambiguous ethno-racial-socio- cultural context.”

Kenn Richard, Executive Director, NCFST

Project Credits

Type of project: Architecture, Landscape Architecture

Designers: Dean Goodman, Partner, Project Architect, LGA Architectural Partners; Scott Torrance, Principal, Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc.

Architect Team: Danny Bartman, Yvonne Popovska, Greg Latimer, Katrina Touw, Sharon Leung, Leigh Jeneroux


Landscape Architect: Scott Torrance, Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc.


Design Association Affiliation: OAA, TSA, OALA

Client Organization: Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST)
Client Website: