Canadian Urban Institute: “Restore The Core"


The shift to remote working precipitated by Covid-19 has had huge immediate implications for commercial real estate in all large city central business districts (CBDs), though local context and economic structure varies. Looking ahead to reopening and the post-COVID world, the outlook for commercial real estate is highly uncertain. Some believe there will be a return to “normal” with workers largely going back to the office, and that in fact public health guidance on distancing will require larger office footprints. Others see this crisis as accelerating a transition to remote and flexible working arrangements, leading many employers to reduce or abandon office space to accommodate worker preference and in pursuit of cost savings. One idea is to convert some office space to residential use.

Project Description

The Canadian Urban Institute asks the student team to explore the following questions in the office to residential conversion:

  • Where are there opportunities to convert empty or under-utilized office space to residential uses?
  • Who are the stakeholders that would need to be engaged?
  • What could the future state look like?
  • What are the potential obstacles and what are some potential solutions?
  • What are the lessons learned for other sites in other Canadian cities?

The project may also require the exploration of associated questions, such as “what does it mean to actually convert these spaces” and “is it worth doing?" however, the focus of the project is applied and should be grounded in the above research questions. 


In this project, the Client expects the team to design the following:

  1. Identify two or more sites in two Canadian cities outside Toronto where an empty or underutilized commercial building could potentially be converted to residential use. Non-Canadian jurisdictions are also acceptable as long as there is enough relevance to the Canadian context.
  2. Develop and execute a stakeholder engagement plan to gather input and information.
  3. Identify potential obstacles and solutions (technical, economic, policy, et.c.). 
  4. Show how the building could be transformed, and also how the future building and new use(s) might interact with its surroundings.
  5. Identify lessons learned for other Canadian cities.