"Swift population increases have made the Waterloo Region one of the fastest growing areas in Canada.  Over the next 20 years, the region is expected to grow by 185,000 people and 80,000 new jobs.


Ensuring that growth contributes to the creation of high-quality places will require a significant emphasis on design excellence.  It is hoped that new development will occur in transit supportive, well-connected locations and demonstrate high-quality design."


- Region of Waterloo

Community Building Strategy, 2013



population:  563,000

area:  1,369 km²








  • 1803   EARLY SETTLERS »

    German-speaking Mennonite settlers from Pennsylvania arrived in the area in 1803, joined by a second wave of continental German settlers about fifty years later. Many trained as craftsmen, artisans, tradesmen, farmers and agriculture laborers, and built brick homes in the German vernacular. These settlers formed a strong sense of community through their shared language, culture and sense of entrepreneurship.


    Waterloo is home to two major universities, Wilfred Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. The University of Waterloo’s focus on engineering, technology and computer science has created fertile ground for a number of high-tech industries to develop nearby.  In 2007, Waterloo was named Intelligent Community of the Year by the Intelligent Community Forum.


    The city of Kitchener was named Berlin from its inception in 1854 until 1916. The city's location along the Grand Trunk Railway meant that it benefited from access to power from Niagara Falls, and as a result, it grew as a successful industrial economy.   During the first world war, the city’s name changed to Kitchener to show clear allegiance with the Allies. By 1965, Kitchener was the fastest growing city in Canada, and new populations moved into the city’s post-war suburbs. In the 1980s,  the city was hit with a recession, forcing many of the once prosperous local businesses to close. Kitchener's new economy is focused on the region’s tech industry.


    The Seagram buildings are an historical anchor to the intersection of Erb + Caroline.  The Seagram Distillery opened in 1857, the same year that Waterloo was established as a village. The Seagram family seeded money into a number of industries in Waterloo, including the insurance sector, which became the focus of Waterloo’s economy.  The distillery provided significant employment for local residents until its closure in 1992.

  • 1950s POST-WAR SUBURBS  »

    After the Second World War, increased population in cities across North America led to the creation of suburbs outside of downtown areas. The Waterloo Region was no exception. Zoning laws were enacted that separated residential neighbourhoods from shops, offices and factories. Networks of highways and large arterial roads connected sprawling suburbs, and an acute reliance on the car was established. It was at this time that the multi-lane, one-way roads were introduced at Erb St. and Caroline St.   While the Waterloo Region is working towards increasing mixed-use housing, office and retail space in the downtown core,  suburban living is still dominant in the area.


    The Regional Municipality is an amalgamation of the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo.  Located 105km southwest of Toronto, it  is currently Ontario’s fourth largest urban area, making it the tenth largest in Canada.  Historically, the strength of the region’s economy has relied on two major drivers: manufacturing and post-secondary education. Manufacturing over the past two decades has transformed from crude to advanced precision manufacturing, closely linked with the computer technology that has emerged in large part from the research at the University of Waterloo.


    The city of Cambridge was formed out of three towns, Galt, Hespeler and Preston in 1973. Galt, located along the Grand River, became a major manufacturer of textiles, and a number of limestone factories were built on banks of the river. University of Waterloo's School of Architecture is now located in a former silk mill along the Grand River in Cambridge.


    In 1986, Patkau Architects won a National Architectural Design Competition for the design of the Clay + Glass Gallery.  The building was a departure from the traditional "white cube" gallery: the Patkaus used local materials - wood and brick - and exposed steel structure, which they felt better connected the objects being displayed to ordinary objects and everyday life.


    Perimeter Institute is an independent centre for scientific research that attracts accomplished scholars and scientists from around the world.  Founded in 1999, its mission is to "advance our understanding of the universe at the most fundamental level".  Saucier + Perrotte, inspired by the institution's bold vision and the complex nature of theoretical physics, designed interconnected spaces for collaboration and contemplation.

  • 2011    CIGI CAMPUS  »

    CIGI Campus includes a series of graduate schools and advanced research institutes, including the Balsillie School for International Affairs (BSIA), which is located adjacent to the CIGI building, currently housed in the former Seagram Museum and historic 19th century barrel warehouse.


    In 2008, under the leadership of new Executive Director Neil Turok the Perimeter Institute launched a series of educational initiatives and outreach programs.  As a result, Perimeter Institute outgrows its original building and Teeple Architects is hired to design an expansion that more than doubles the size of the existing facility.  The addition is named after the Institute's first Distinguished Research Chair, Stephen Hawking.


    Waterloo Region has broken ground on its new rapid transit system, ION.  Stage One of construction, due for completion in 2017, includes the construction of 19km of LRT connecting Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener, along with the implementation of Adaptive Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) from Fairview Park Mall to Cambridge’s Ainslie Street Bus Terminal.  Stage Two will see that aBRT converted into an LRT line running a total length of 37 kilometres.


IN THE AGE OF THE COMPETITIVE CITY, where economic growth and prosperity are increasingly dependent on the ability to attract talent from all over the world, the Region of Waterloo has come to the fore as a dark horse.  Stepping onto the world platform, leaders from the area have been making statements of great ambition, promising innovation in science, technology, governance and education. Perhaps most poignantly, Waterloo is an aggressive contender in the global race to develop and commercialize quantum computing – a breakthrough that has been likened to producing the “holy grail of technology.”


In recent years, these ambitions have been declared through great works of architecture; lasting markers employed by those who plan to leave a legacy. Starting in 1993 with the new Kitchener City Hall by KPMB Architects, a string of high-profile buildings have been commissioned across the region. Many have been placed within urban cores, part of an effort to bring life back into downtown neighbourhoods that were abandoned for the big box stores and rows of suburbs in the second half of the last century.


At the corner of Erb Street and Caroline Street, in the City of Waterloo, stand four national-award winning buildings, designed by five of the country’s most highly-regarded architects. It is a lineup that one might expect to see in a city block in Paris or New York: a national art museum, a centre for international governance, and a leading research institute for theoretical physics, all within a stone’s throw of one another. Add to the fact that the latter two were funded by Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, co-founders of Research in Motion and two of the most influential men in Canada, and the intersection becomes one of the most important in the country. The strong historic, geographic and architectural significance of the corner has made it great fodder for a region working diligently to sell the world on its particular brand of innovation and prosperity.


In the truly pragmatic nature that you would associate with the home of some of the world’s most ingenious engineers, scientists, and tech superstars, the story of the Waterloo Region is being steered strategically. The commissioning of impressive architecture is one piece of the puzzle, and a dedicated federation called the Prosperity Council been formed to help chart the rest of the course.


The group is made up of representatives from each of the region’s three cities: the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s Technology Triangle and Communitech, a group of entrepreneurs that work to bring new products by tech start-ups to market.  The official job of the Prosperity Council includes supporting wealth creation and enhancing the quality of life in the region. In practice, the group is busy writing their own history, shaping a story to convince their constituents to get behind a number of the dramatic changes that are set to take place in their community.


This is a complicated job. One of region’s biggest challenges is also the most obvious: the Municipal Region of Waterloo is not one integrated city, it is a grouping of three. Although they are often presented together as a unit, the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo have individual histories that shape the perceptions and desires of their respective communities. At times, the political interests of each do not align with the region’s central vision for growth and development. The most obvious and timely example is the debate over the planned transit expansion and the introduction of light rail transit to Kitchener-Waterloo. The plan has been envisioned by regional leaders as a way to stimulate growth and development, to reduce dependence on cars, and to encourage better connectivity between the three municipalities.


The region is now working to improve the state of urban culture and street-scape design. Until recently, this historically frugal place suffered from a lack of urban design. “Currently the streets have no animation, no district, no identifiable place to go,” says local architect Roger Farwell.


Most people arriving to the corner of Erb St. and Caroline St. in Waterloo come by car. Driving south along four lanes of traffic on Caroline St., the road curves down, and three buildings emerge to the west. The buildings are flanked by two major one-way streets and a landscape predominately made up of parking spaces.


To the right is the Canadian Clay and Glass gallery, with its distinct palette of wood, red brick and glass. When it opened in 1993, the building was met with controversy. Some considered it too extravagant for a publicly-funded project. Two decades later, perceptions have changed. Set between its new neighbours, this atypical gallery has taken on a valued and familiar presence within the community. On the inside, the natural light, robust materials and triple volume spaces have become a welcome change from the conventional white-walled art gallery.


Bill Poole, director at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, speaks about the building's capacity to hold exceptional exhibition work.

The original PI building was completed only a few years before in 2006. Along the south side of the original building, an array of windows slide in and pop out of a canvas of dark metal panels, stretching along the path that connects the University of Waterloo with the town centre through Waterloo Park. This path is one part of the Trans Canada Trail, which on its run across Canada, cuts through the centre of the region’s three cities.


In the background, to the northwest, the trees from Waterloo park frame the imposing, angular, gold-accented structure of the new Steven Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute. In 2008, when news that Steven Hawking would be paying regular visits to Waterloo through his ongoing appointment as Distinguished Research Chair, the stature of the institute skyrocketed. This prompted a new addition that doubled the size the of the original building, and provided space for three times more scientists.


Gilles Saucier, architect of Perimeter Institute Phase 1, shares his thoughts on the second phase of the building completed by Teeple Architects.

Opposite is the historic anchor of the intersection, where the former Seagram distillery once stood, and where a whiskey barrel pyramid once welcomed bus-loads of tourists to the Seagram Museum. In its place stands the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Next to the remaining Seagram buildings, the school forms the newest part of the Centre for International Governance Innovation campus.


Facing Erb St., the Balsillie School’s otherwise inconspicuous facade is made dramatic with a sweeping wooden canopy, cantilevering over a two-storey glass entryway. Through those doors come policy-makers, diplomats and leading academics from around the world. The work is driven by the institute’s belief that “international governance can improve the lives of people everywhere, by increasing prosperity, ensuring global sustainability, addressing inequality and safeguarding human rights.”


The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, the Perimeter Institute, and the CIGI campus each stand as physical representations of some of the highest aspirations in a society: creativity and imagination, international diplomacy, and scientific innovation. The mandate of these institutions, each ambitious in its own right, has drawn great public interest and pride in both the local and national community.


Roger Farwell, architect at Waterloo-based design firm WalterFedy. Speaking as a member of the Waterloo Region's Prosperity Council, he describes the design of city's strategic spaces.

Standing on the corner of the intersection, the story seems incomplete. Although the city and region is widely credited for its collaborative nature and its co-operative partnerships, there is little physical evidence of this within its civic spaces. While the proximity between the buildings at Erb St. and Caroline St. suggests a desire to bring these aspirations together, the landscape of parking lots and the dominance of car traffic fight to keep them apart. If the lofty institutional promises of innovation and creativity are not yet matched in the day to day life of the city, it begs the question: if you haven’t yet built it, will they still come?


While the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery is programmed as a public institution, the Perimeter Institute and the CIGI Campus are both only partially accessible to the rest of the community. The courtyard within the CIGI campus was intended to be open as a public space, but in practice, the school limits access by locking the door after-hours.


But with plans underway for an LRT station to be located nearby and the construction of residential towers and a new hotel at the corner, there is no doubt that the level of activity at the corner will increase, and that the current situation will evolve.


Shirley Blumberg, architect of CIGI Campus, talks about the urban realm of Waterloo.


In recent years the Region of Waterloo has been building a strategy to address the economic potential of its underdeveloped public realm, anticipating an influx to a population that is expected to rise from 550,000 to 742,000 by 2031.  In April 2002, faced with a congested highway system and an agenda to limit suburban sprawl, the Region proposed a solution: rapid transit.


Twelve years later, the Region approved plans for an extensive rapid transit system planned to link the three cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo via a 36 km network of light rail and adaptive bus rapid transit.


The objective of implementing rapid transit is twofold: to move people across the region and to shape the built form of the city. Light tail transit, electric trains running along tracks separated from regular traffic, is touted by its supporters as a system that is powerful in its ability to guide future development.  The idea is that developers and businesses are attracted to the permanence and capacity of the LRT system that, in theory, encourages compact urban growth along the transit corridor and close to transit stops.

Planned LRT route through Waterloo Region

In February 2012, the Region of Waterloo began working in collaboration with the leaders from Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo, and members of the community to draft the Central Transit Corridor Community Building Strategy.  Developed with input gathered from a year-long series of public open houses, workshop, and forums, the document outlines a framework meant to guide the growth of the Region in existing urban areas and around the 23 future rapid transit stations.  It identifies the elements that are currently thought to contribute to successful urban development in the Region, namely a well-designed public realm. This includes high-density residential development, improved pedestrian and cycling networks, and a better-connected local bus service.


Stage One, due for completion in 2017, includes the construction of 19 km of LRT connecting Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener, along with the implementation of adaptive bus rapid transit (aBRT) from Fairview Park Mall to Cambridge’s Ainslie Street Bus Terminal.  Stage two will see aBRT converted into an LRT line, officially called ION, running a total length of 37 km.


As with any major infrastructural project, the region’s LRT plans have been challenged by opponents. Specifically, concerns have been raised in Cambridge about the first stage of the project, which costs  $532.1 million, and  does not include an LRT line within Cambridge city limits.


General concerns have been voiced over the cost of the infrastructure, and some have questioned whether the population of the region is large enough to support the investment. Much of the controversy surrounding light rail transit hinges on whether the system is more efficient than bus rapid transit, a less costly method of transportation that has seen success in cities like Los Angeles and New York. Some argue that bus transit is equally as effective in catalyzing development and economic investment, is less costly to build, and will take less time to implement. However, proponents of the LRT say the bus transit will reach capacity in the near future, inevitably forcing the city to upgrade.


Already, plans for LRT have been a boon to construction in the Waterloo Region, as developers and investors buy up land along the planned transit line. In its most successful outcome, the LRT will stimulate business development and pedestrian traffic around central hubs, connecting residents to their places of work and recreation.  The hope is that this new infrastructure will curb urban sprawl, and be of benefit to the environment by reducing car traffic.  In it’s most regrettable outcome, it will cost taxpayers valuable dollars, will be underused, and will fail to stimulate core activity and growth. The outcome of this investment will not be known for decades.


Across Canada, austerity has been the leading talking point across all levels of government. On a municipal level in Ontario, a huge amount of airtime is given to cost-saving measures and promises to operate more efficiently within current budgets. This climate is directly at odds with city leaders who are advocating for spending in the public sector, in anticipation of the broader social, and arguably economic benefits to that will come over time.


These controversies speak to the Region of Waterloo’s current challenge: to convince the population of the long-term benefits of a comprehensive transit system, and to urge them to embrace change. For some, this will be a difficult adjustment, namely for residents living in areas directly affected by the construction of the new transit line. It will also be a challenge for those who are simply accustomed to driving. Convincing residents to change their lifestyles, and maintaining the political will to carry through with a long-term vision, will be the major hurdles for the Waterloo Region to overcome.


"Churchill once said 'we make buildings and they make us.' I think that's very very true. Waterloo is the little city that could."


-Shirley Blumberg