A legal skirmish has marooned these intriguing structures along Eastern for a decade, but the toylike, eco-friendly modules may be a radical answer to T.O.'s housing crunch
What UniTri modular "space structures" at 1 Sumach (at Eastern) - the answer to Toronto's affordable housing crunch?
Pioneering design Based on an architectural innovation developed by Dutch structuralist Piet Blom, the "cubes," hundreds of which have been built in Rotterdam, Holland, were assembled at the Sumach site in 1996 by Ben Kutner, an Ottawa architect who bought the rights to Blom's design.
The big idea The cubes were built to demonstrate that a cheap, affordable form of housing could be built on derelict land and too-small, hard-to-develop spaces in the city core. They perch on a single column, taking up little ground space and thus reducing a major factor in the high cost of housing - land. Cubes can be built for as little as $150,000 each, and the land can be leased rather than purchased.
3-D living The cubes measure 24 feet square (42 feet from point to point) and provide between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet of floor space on three levels: a 350-square-foot lower level, a 600-square-foot middle level and 150-square-foot "sky level." (The remaining floor space is taken up by the furnace and electrical power source in the lower point of the cube.)
Wise use of space No, the floors are not on an angle. They're triangle- and hexagon-shaped and stack level inside the cube (see schematic on this page). The interior design actually maximizes both headspace - the ceilings are 9 feet high - and the flow of natural light. Canted walls also give the illusion of more space.
A concept for the ages The "cube-on-its-point" design resembles a tree (hence the name UniTri) and, for the purposes of cooling, works on the same "thermal chimney" concept that keeps forests cool. No AC is required. Simply opening a roof vent will keep the interior cool even on hot, muggy days. In winter, fans make efficient use of heat from the furnace. Also, the structures are earthquake- and fire-resistant.
House in a box Newer generations of the cube can be sold in "kits" consisting of lightweight steel construction onto which wind turbines and solar panels can be affixed and connected to other modules to create totally energy-self-sufficient neighbourhoods.
The plan The cubes were supposed to be part of a self-sufficient "fuel cell station" consisting of seven modules. They were intended to be taken apart, moved to the port lands and incorporated into a larger affordable housing project of hundreds of cubes.
The legal snag Kutner couldn't get financing for larger projects. The holder of the mortgage on the property (Kutner did not own the land on which the cubes sit) sold the parcel, cubes and all. Kutner is now suing to regain possession of them. At issue is whether they amount to a "fixture," in which case Kutner does not have a case, or "chattel." A decision is not expected until next year.
Will the concept fly? It took Kutner 10 years to get the permit to build on the Sumach site. Enough said. firstname.lastname@example.org