Stella’s Place Ambulatory Mental Health Hub, Toronto
Stella’s Place has emerged as an exemplar for young-adult driven, community-based mental health services in downtown Toronto. This 11,000 square foot (1,020 square meter) hub occupies a fully renovated three-storey post and beam former candy factory, originally constructed in 1912. Serving young adults aged 16 to 29, Stella’s Place fosters a sense of community through a welcoming, fully accessible space featuring a contemporary café, one-on-one counselling rooms, group rooms, a teaching kitchen and staff workspaces.
The industrial character of the original warehouse is expressed through exposed brick walls and heavy timber framing, playfully contrasted with thoughtful, modern interventions. Inspired by the participants and staff who expressed a need for both visual and physical connection throughout the hub, new double-height spaces are strategically placed to create interconnectivity between existing floors while enhancing daylight access. These interventions allow for unobtrusive staff observation from the entrance to the welcoming café and suspended group room, as well as the new public stair which links participant-accessed floors.
What makes this project so innovative, and was key to its success, was the fact that it was co-designed by a young adult consultant team together with Stella’s Place participants, peer counsellors and staff. Consultants from all disciplines were supported with mentorship from senior architecture and engineering staff. User participants provided meaningful input on how the design could positively influence the well-being of all occupants while avoiding anything that felt clinical. For one participant, this collaborative process was so engaging that he enrolled in Interior Design school.
To ensure future flexibility on a tight urban site, the structure reinforcement permits a future one-storey roof-top addition and garden. A new elevator and a fully integrated interior ramp enable inclusivity and adaptability throughout the space. Enhanced acoustic strategies within walls and ceilings protect privacy and allow various activities to occur simultaneously, without disruption. Vibrantly coloured wall-mounted panels improve occupant comfort by reducing reverberation. A variety of configurations and transparency in group and counselling rooms, some with movable partitions, accommodate diverse programming and group sizes. Common areas vary in character and enclosure, giving participants the choice to be separate, passively observe, or actively socialize. Stella’s Place users requested that the interior design include elements from the former Stella’s location, including glass block to draw natural light into group rooms while maintaining privacy and acoustic separation.
The client and design team undertook a complete refurbishment of this robust heritage building massing and façade while limiting community displacement. Many of the characteristic original finishes are tastefully incorporated into the new design, including exposed brick walls and wood floor decking. The steel boiler room door with its patina and counterweight was retained while furniture and wall-mounted elements from the former location were reused. Repurposed wood decking clads the interior of new skylights, while original masonry was cleaned and stored for repairs to the exterior and interior walls.
Today, Stella’s Place is a sustainable, welcoming space to connect and empower young adults seeking peer support on their mental health journeys.