A Toronto student has come up with a novel solution for growing families looking to jump into the Toronto real estate market — condo units that can be divided into smaller rental apartments until the owner decides they need the space back.

University of Toronto architecture student Yupin Li's building design, called "Flex," won an award of excellence on Wednesday evening at the 2017 Toronto Urban Design awards, which honoured well-known buildings as well as prospective designs.

Other winners include the redesigned Broadview Hotel, the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre, and the Front Street revitalization.

Li's building idea drew inspiration from a process most Torontonians are already familiar with: buying housing and then renting it out to help cover the costs.

Yupin Li

Li said the idea for "Flex" came partly out of the desire to see more interesting design in Toronto that is both sustainable and affordable. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

"A lot of people buy a house, rent out the basement, and later, when they can afford it, they take the space back," she said on Metro Morning Thursday.

In the case of "Flex," condo units would be easily subdivided into smaller apartments that could then be reclaimed when owners needed the space.

"You can rent out a portion of it to maybe cover your mortgage and as your family grows you can absorb the space back," said Li.

"Flex" is designed with a specific spot in mind: 794 Dundas St. W., near the intersection of Dundas and Palmerston Avenue. In addition to flexible units, Li's design places an emphasis on incorporating the laneway that runs north of the lot.

Flex design rendering

More images from the "Flex" design show a green laneway that has space for cars, cyclists and pedestrians. (Yupin Li)

"I wanted to connect the main street, Dundas, to the laneway in the back, and funnel people in through an open main floor," she explained.

Images of the design show a green alley that could be used by cars, bicycles and pedestrians.

So could Flex ever be built?

"I hope so," said Li. "Toronto is growing every year and affordable housing is something the city really does need to focus on."