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HOK’s Toronto Studio Provides Pro-Bono Design and Raises Funds for Women’s Shelter

Contributions will go toward improving the lives of women and youth staying in YWCA Toronto’s 1st Stop Woodlawn Residence.

YWCA Toronto is one of Canada’s largest providers of transitional and homeless housing. Jacquie Martinez, an office manager in HOK’s Toronto studio, sits on the YWCA’s “Home Team” shelter committee. She started thinking: What if she could recruit colleagues to join the cause? Particularly, what could HOK’s Toronto studio do to improve YWCA’s 1st Stop Woodlawn Residence, a shelter located in a deteriorating 1960s-era building that provides long-term transitional and emergency housing for 130 women and youth?

The answer: A lot.

Over the past 13 months, HOK’s Toronto studio has helped to raise more than CAD$100,000 (Update 2021: the figure has now reached more than $450,000) for improvements to 1st Stop Woodlawn. Meanwhile, studio designers have donated time designing an updated kitchen, dining room and lounge for the shelter and a programming room for the building’s basement. Altogether, HOK has donated over 150 hours for the project.

“We want to create a space that feels more like home,” says Martinez. “Currently the space feels a bit unwelcoming and is very outdated. We started by looking at how we could upgrade the kitchen, which is in dire shape with much of the equipment not working.”

Contractors and a kitchen consultant have also donated time to assess the property and provide an overall budget for renovations, which will include updating the electrical system and kitchen equipment. Using strategies from healthcare and hospitality, the design team focused on supporting healing and accessibility for people with various mobility needs. The design incorporates views to the surrounding tree-lined neighborhood of Summerhill. Artwork from the residents provides interior decor.

In November, HOK Toronto’s office hosted an art auction with the YWCA’s shelter committee that raised CAD$130,000 for the renovation. The “Home Is Where the Art Is” auction featured 29 pieces of artwork donated by Canadian artists including Charles Pachter, Mara Korkola, Erin Armstrong, Mike Smalley, Frances Thomas, Byron Hodgins and James Kennedy. The event also raised further awareness of YWCA Toronto and 1st Stop Woodlawn.

“As a local charity that assists women, this project resonates so much with our design team” says HOK’s Caitlin Turner, a director of design, interiors. “The HOK staff most involved in this project are women, and we all recognize how vital it is to have this resource of 1st Stop Woodlawn for women, who can be especially vulnerable.”

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