Interview with Annie Koo, Associate Director of Development, Sidewalk Labs. By Sarah Lipsit, CanBIM
Toronto’s eastern waterfront presents an extraordinary opportunity to shape the city’s future and provide a global model for inclusive urban growth. Sidewalk Labs, in partnership with Waterfront Toronto aims to develop a mixed-use, complete community that combines forward thinking urban design with the newest innovations in digital technology. At its core, Sidewalk Labs is tackling the continuing densification and housing crisis of Toronto by devising a comprehensive strategy for data-driven design and construction, creating a variety of options for affordable housing, purpose built rental, and family units. CanBIM spoke to Annie Koo, Associate Director of Development at Sidewalk Labs, about their proposal, how technology and data are driving the project, and how it is setting a global precedent for future developments.
CanBIM: Could you introduce and describe the Quayside project?
Sidewalk Labs: The project was initiated by a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by Waterfront Toronto in March 2017. We were one of many firms that responded and participated in the process, and was later selected and announced as Waterfront Toronto’s “Innovation and Funding Partner” to develop a parcel of land on Toronto’s eastern waterfront in October 2017. Across 18 months, we consulted with more than 21,000 Torontonians to ensure we built a plan that would benefit Toronto. Last June, we submitted a proposal for the eastern waterfront that shortens commute times, makes housing more affordable for families, creates new jobs for residents, and creates a new standard for a healthier planet.
CanBIM: How will this proposal shift the way we design, build, and operate? In turn, how do you think designers, architects, engineers, GC’s and owners will respond to this shift in the industry?
Sidewalk Labs: To create a mixed-income community on Toronto’s waterfront that builds on the city’s diversity, and demonstrates a path forward for affordability and economic opportunity in high-demand cities, Sidewalk Labs proposes a comprehensive three-part strategy for construction, building, and housing innovation. First, we propose construction innovations that would accelerate project timelines while reducing costs and uncertainties, helping developers look beyond condo towers. Second, we propose building design innovations that could enable flexibility and accommodate the full range of live-work needs and respond nimbly as those needs change. Finally, our proposed housing innovations aim to realize an ambitious affordability program wherein many units are below market rate, with much of the program’s total units consisting of purpose-built rentals to improve long-term affordability. We hope this plan can inspire others and act as a model for cities across the globe.
CanBIM: What technologies are being proposed to design the project and collaborate with partners?
Sidewalk Labs: From developing low-energy buildings (inspired by the Passive House movement), balanced ventilation systems designed to reduce energy needs, to building digital active energy management tools that would optimize energy systems for residents, businesses, and building operators, we are proposing an array of digital, physical, and policy innovations for the eastern waterfront, with the ultimate goal of improving people’s lives.
As for partner collaboration, one proposal is to offer a library of building options — with real-time prices and delivery times shown through the BIM interface — to architects that enables them to create designs with certainty about what supplies are available. This way of building allows for a more sustainable community, speeding construction times, new timber factory, and affordable housing. We have also proposed a digital coordination system called Sidewalk Digital Fabrication that would help to coordinate every part of the proposed mass timber supply chain, from the off-site factory to on-site assembly.
CanBIM: What kind of data is being collected from this project and the people who will live and work here? How and where will that data be stored?
Sidewalk Labs: Our proposal for Toronto’s eastern waterfront makes clear that our approach to technology is grounded in improving quality of life and protecting privacy. Not only do we clearly comply with all existing Canadian laws, we believe there needs to be a higher standard and we hold ourselves accountable to this through responsible data use policies that go far beyond individual privacy. We’re proposing that we apply Responsible Data Use guidelines and Responsible Data Use Assessments. The RDU Guidelines include principles like ensuring there’s a beneficial purpose for data collection and use, limiting data collection to what’s needed, and using de-identification to reduce the amount of personal information collected and used. With our project, various types of urban data are useful in advancing Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes for the project — one example is using data for reporting the availability of bike-shares and docks.
CanBIM: Innovation Spotlight highlights new ideas and technologies within the BIM and construction industry. Has BIM been incorporated into the design process?
Sidewalk Labs: The proposed Sidewalk Digital Fabrication system would build on existing BIMs to create an end-to-end digital backbone for the entire construction pipeline, connecting suppliers, developers, architects, regulators, contractors, and even landlords. Feedback from a BIM could ensure that a factory created a consistent supply of standardized building component types, thus also offering pre-determined delivery timelines. This coordination would ultimately lead to more efficient operations, more predictability, and reduced costs. BIM systems can help contractors know how best to assemble the parts in a given design. Additionally, the standardization of parts would help workers assemble them easily and quickly, particularly as crews gain more familiarity with the standardized components. Code reviewers and permit authorities reviewing a BIM model could identify pre-certified building components and assemblies. This process would free architects and engineers to choose from a kit of parts with the confidence that their final designs and plans will meet code and require minimal permit review.
CanBIM: How do you think the Quayside project and tech ecosystem will advocate for new startups and companies in the AECOO industry or emerging area of urban tech, to help them develop new innovations? Are you working with any local innovators?
Sidewalk Labs: One of the ideas put forward in our proposal for the eastern waterfront is the creation of an Urban Innovation Institute, an applied research centre focused on urban innovation. The Urban Innovation Institute can be the venue through which researchers, students, and entrepreneurs from the vast array of universities and colleges throughout Toronto and Ontario can research, test, develop and scale innovative solutions to urban issues. We are prepared to provide $10 million in seed funding to help launch it. We plan to provide initial capital to establish a new venture fund to support local entrepreneurial activity in urban innovation, designated for Ontario — and Toronto-based entrepreneurs and enterprises. We plan to contribute $10 million to the venture fund and seek additional funding from local partners to increase the size of the overall investment.