Dutch architect shares his fix for Toronto housing

Architect Marco VanderMaas, who grew up in the Netherlands, says dense, mixed-use housing is Toronto's best way forward.

Marco VanderMaas says Toronto needs mixed-use housing, townhouses and duplexes

An image of a mixed-use development in Cornell, a planned community in Markham. It's a 2017 equivalent to the kind of home that architect Marco VanderMaas grew up in. (Q4 Architects )

When architect Marco VanderMaas needs inspiration for solutions to Toronto's housing crunch, he thinks about his own childhood in the Netherlands, where he grew up in a unit on top of his parent's store.

What Toronto needs, he said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, is more housing like that: homes that you "don't really notice" because they blend into the neighbourhoods where they're located. 

"It's what we call the missing middle," he said. "A housing type that combines different uses."

Now, VanderMaas helps design townhouses, duplexes, triplexes and mid-rise buildings that he hopes will build the same kind of community he experienced as a young person.  

"It's something I want to get back to. I could jump on my bike and visit my friends, go to school, go to work," he said.

In Downsview Park, on land that had previously been used as a military base, VanderMaas and his firm, Q4 Architects, are contributing to a large-scale project to build 580 townhouse units. 

"It's the largest urban infill project in Canada," he said, adding that he hopes the modern design being used will appeal to millennials.

VanderMaas has also been at work in Markham in the planned community of Cornell, a new home development.

"At Cornell, a neighbourhood similar to Riverdale and the Annex, we have live-work kinds of units, but also townhouses and single-family homes that have laneways in the back," he said.

Laneway housing is another favourite of his — something that's inching closer to a reality in Toronto after a successful public consultation last year.

It's all part of an intensification in Toronto's urban and suburban communities that he believes is inevitable — and should be embraced.

"It's not giving up anything, it's actually enhancing the quality of life. It is working," he said.