Tag Archives: ontario

Early Learning Center

Early Learning Center in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Teeple Architects.

Local architect for the nearby Graduate House by Morphosis, Teeple Architects is no stranger to progressive design, particularly in the realm of day care. Over the last ten years, the Toronto-based firm has created numerous centers, leading up to the wonderful University of Toronto Early Learning Centre. Spatially interesting, light-filled, and responsive to the children's needs, the 1,061 s.m. (11,400 s.f.) building also responds to its site in a way that improves upon the interior spaces.

A brick-clad wall and cantilevered stair signal a ramp to the main entry from the alley and parking. Inside a long ramp reiterates the exterior progression to connect the day care's two main levels. Acting as a functional connector, the ramp also provides a gentle incline for play and a visual connection between the younger and older children on the lower and upper floors, respectively.

Elsewhere on the exterior, green-tinted glass and standing-seam, galvanized metal prevails. What appears to be random masses and openings is the product of a complex composition that connects the interior and exterior spaces. Double-height spaces on the upper floor add variety to the overall mass but also help form play areas on the roof. An outdoor play area at grade provides the best glimpse of the architect's sensitivity to the site: a large, existing walnut tree is wrapped by the building, in a gesture that preserves the tree while indicating the subservient role of the building to nature.

An article in Azure indicates that firm principal Stephen Teeple values the connections the design makes between in and out. The variety of window openings emphasizes this more than a grid of regular windows could accomplish. Some glass brings in sun while other areas frame particular views or connect to outdoor spaces. Teeple has created an environment where kids can sense this connection as they will be continually amazed by the variety inherent in the playful spaces of the architecture.

[Google Earth link]

Sharp Centre for Design

Sharp Centre for Design in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Will Alsop, 2004.

Approaching the Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) it's difficult to not feel shock at the sight of a black and white box with colored stilts. The shock gives way to the now proverbial awe as one senses the underside of the two-story object raised about eight stories above the street. But has Will Alsop (with local architect Robie Young + Wright Architects) created something that will stand the test of time, or a goofy one- or two-liner?

Although shocking and daring, the building's design is relatively simple and straightforward. A two-story box, housing studios and offices, is raised above a triple-height entry that reuses an old, yet fairly nondescript, existing building. The painted steel, tapered-tube structure leans out to accommodate this lower part, the concrete core and a service incline the only other parts of the composition. So the design is made up of five parts, though their relationship to each other and the norm is what gives the building its shock value.

According to the architect, the design was generated by the desire to create an icon for a 125-year-old institution that contributes greatly to Canada's creative industry, as well as a consideration for the building's neighbors, preserving views to a park west of the Centre. Even without the Tetris-like pattern painted onto the corrugated metal cladding or the brightly-colored steel and lipstick-red service incline (most likely exit stairs and building systems), the building is impressive. The feeling of walking under the floating "tabletop" is uncomparable. Its coloring, if anything, detracts from this effect, creating an un-needed diversion from the structural bravado already achieved.

The early renderings indicate that the entry sequence would be an extension of the exterior's impact. Instead the reality is much more subdued (images below), the colored glass fading away and the monochrome interior playing up the core's mass over any impact from a use of color.

Upstairs, the studios and offices are relatively sedate, though randomly sized and located window openings with colored jambs, heads and sills help to spice things up. In some areas the structural reality comes through, as the two-story-high truss members protrude into different spaces. Unfortunately once inside the "tabletop", the sense of being raised above the street and surroundings isn't directly perceived. Regardless, one's mind is aware of the unnatural situation, and some views to the street do create a sense of vertigo through the indirect perception of the stilts.

As mentioned earlier, Alsop and OCAD tried to create an icon while being sensitive to the surroundings. An indirect consequence of the final design is a series of unobstructed views in all directions, particularly towards downtown Toronto, to the south. So they have succeeded in their intentions, though hopefully the shock does not subside into boredom and kitsch. But since the painted exterior will require extra coats in the future, perhaps it can be a vehicle for students to update the building's public face in years to come.

[Google Earth link]

Worship Center

Worship Center in Kingston, Ontario, Canada by Mill & Ross Architects.

An experiment in gypsum construction, The MHS PCCC Worship Center in Kingston, Ontario, Canada by Mill & Ross Architects (now HDR Architecture) is a series of small, yet powerful, spaces that carves slots in its curvilinear construction for effect. Inserted into an existing space, the program consists of the main chapel, sacristy and reservation chapel.

The main entry hints at the spaces within through the framing of the doors, the combination of gypsum board with wood, and the location and type of lighting. Once inside the curved walls seem to peel away from each other to provide access to the individual spaces, wood accenting the otherwise monochromatic palette of the gypsum walls and acoustical ceiling tiles.

The primarily horizontal slots in the walls are broken here, rather effectively, in the shape of the cross. These slots serve many functions: breaking up the wall surfaces, allowing relative privacy through their size and locations, and creating the sensation of movement. Overall the openings and the curved walls make the project unique, something that would not be accomplished with either in isolation.

Above one can see (as in the previous image) the addition of a gypsum shelf that is used to hide some can lights to throw light down along the walls to the floor. This is done in a similar way as the entry, tying the inside and outside together, albeit in a subtle way. What remains is the appropriateness of the design to its function as a place for contemplation and prayer. The curved walls seem to embrace, an obvious allusion to St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, while the slots allow light to penetrate, relieving the spaces of any claustrophobia while alluding to a "place beyond".

Graduate House

Graduate House

Graduate House in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Morphosis, 2000.

Darlings of the architectural undergrad, Santa Monica, California's Morphosis, currently headed by co-founder Thom Mayne, created a large following through a layering device: layering of spaces and materials. Since the departure of co-founder Michael Rotondi the firm has embraced digital media, using the computer to develop forms that veer from the orthogonal, such as the Diamond Ranch High School in Ponoma, California. Their design for Graduate House (with Teeple Architects) at the west entrance to the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto recalls their earlier work, particularly the Salick Health Care Office Building of 1991, each building creating a strong presence in their respective setting through a juxtaposition of unconventional, harsh materials and transparent materials.

At Graduate House, a dorm for graduate students that also contains a restaurant on the first floor, the primary material is a dull, gray metal panel with built-in projections that give the facade a much-needed horizontality while setting up and framing the window openings. Facing Spadina Avenue, the main entry is recessed, marked by a tall, mustard yellow wall and a curtain wall, and toward Harbord Street to the south, a steel frame, covered in perforated metal with irregular openings, wraps the horizontal metal panels. Even with these features the obvious focus of the exterior is the cantilevered frame and perforated, green metal signage; a contemporary gateway to the campus.

Applied to the perforated metal, the semi-transparent letters "UNIVERSITY OF TORONT" gives way to a free-standing letter "O" at end of the cantilever, an unsurprising gesture from Thom Mayne that implies more layering than is physically present. Also evident is the way the sign affects the adjacent exterior skin: glass banding below and metal panels rising slightly to cradle it. A testament to Mayne's ability to compose different materials and forms into a cohesive whole is evident here: the seemingly unrelated signage giving the building a center and unifying the disparate parts.

Unfortunately, as with most public institutions, the budget is apparently low. The majority of the funds are seemingly devoted to the facades as the dorm rooms are minimal in size and features. But addressing the design with this aspect in mind, Graduate House is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that is graced by an eclectic mix of buildings and people. In effect the building is a reflection of its surroundings, embracing the diversity but also aware of its important location as an entry to campus.

[Google Earth link]

Park Road House

Park Road House

Park Road House in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Donald McKay and Company, 1992.

Situated in a suburban area of Toronto, Ontario, the Park Road House by Donald McKay and Company is an exercise in technology and contextuality. Standing out from its neighbors primarily in shape the house uses common materials, brick and wood, with uncommon ones (in residential applications), steel framing and metals, to create a tension within its context. The house, though, is suburban in its program: introverted with outdoor spaces oriented to the backyard.

The street elevation calls attention to the entrance with a steel canopy projecting parallel to the main, three-story mass of the house. The two-story entrance volume incorporates low ribbon-windows and wood siding to help decrease the scale of the house towards the street. The rear of the house incorporates awnings, similar to the entry canopy, with large expanses of glass, steel mesh and exposed bracing. Inside the house is a mixture of rich, wooden surfaces and exposed steel framing, painted a color similar to the brick exterior.

It is evident the house was designed with a deep concern for tectonics, coupled with an ability to create interesting spaces from that concern. Separations between levels and rooms are signaled by structural members, sometimes juxtaposed with planar surfaces, sometimes solitary. This modernist means of subtly transitioning between spaces reaches a greater complexity inside as layers of structure and materials are integrated in different ways.

Possibly the greatest lesson that can be learned from the Park Road House is its ability to use modern materials and methods in a suburban context. The design's simple, yet layered composition sometimes reaches towards artistry, especially in the outdoor elements projecting from the house proper. In these the potential of the method becomes apparent: tectonics as expression of self. A good lesson indeed in a suburban landscape where individuality in house design has almost disappeared.

Earth Sciences Center

Earth Sciences Center

Earth Sciences Center in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada by A.J. Diamond, Donald Schmitt and Company.

The following text is by Jack Diamond of the Canadian firm A.J. Diamond, Donald Schmitt and Company. The accompanying images are a project for the Earth Sciences Center in Waterloo, Ontario.

Unrecognized in the governance structure of Canada, in which only federal and provincial governments hold real power, is the re-emergence of the city as the predominant social and economic unit in the late 20th century.

This is particularly true in Canada, where more than 80% of the population live in urban areas. Canada is as much a country of towns and cities as it is of farms and forests. The present lamentable rush of the federal government to devolve powers to the provinces is not only destructive in terms of Canadian achievements in social equity, but also highly inappropriate in an urbanized society. To extend the powers of the provinces is to maintain the fiction that we are an agrarian society, and ensures rural and ex-urban dominance within provincial governments.

Recent events in Toronto illustrate the result of maintaining and indeed reinforcing such an antediluvian structure. Greater Toronto has a population of about four million people, more than the maritime provinces combined, or Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The GTA produces more than half of Ontario's wealth (with the other cities in the province accounting for much of the remainder). Cities in most other Canadian provinces also hold dominant economic and population positions in their respective regions.

The proposals of the provincial government in relation to the city neither reflect an understanding of urban development now taking place, nor are they appropriate to new and emerging conditions. Never was the metaphor of the goose and the golden egg more apt.

Laissez faire policies and hidden provincial subsidies in regard to urban growth are leading cities into low density forms that are expensive, inefficient and charmless. More compact forms, founded on integrated land use, transportation planning and strategic infrastructure investment, would literally save billions of dollars in more effective hard and soft service arrangements. Such forms would also preserve agricultural and recreation space. Amalgamating a few fire departments is a charade of cost cutting. A much broader vision of the future is necessary. Clearly government at the provincial level is not the place to expect such insight and action.

It would seem far more appropriate, therefore, for powers devolved from the federal level to reside with municipal governments. The federal system has worked well in our Canadian democracy. This structure could apply in a renewed federation of city states, in recognition of the reality of the settlement patterns and economic and social dynamics at the dawn of the 21st Century. In provinces where agrarian interests are relatively important, there could still be a role for a provincial or regional government. To reflect reality such governments should be wards of the cities.

Systems are seldom changed from within. It is unlikely that the provinces would relinquish power voluntarily, no matter how obsolete or irrelevant they became.

Therefore, to review our structure of government and engage Canadians in a discourse concerning a new model of the Canadian federation, a panel of distinguished Canadians, none of whom have held political office, should be instituted.

The objective would be to articulate a new vision of Canada based on new conditions but drawing on our invaluable and unique experiences. As a start the panel could look at a new constellation of units, small enough to be locally responsive, yet coordinated in a federation of common urban interests. Powerful and creative forces would be released, capturing the enormous potentials of an urban society.

The future is here. We need only acknowledge it and plan accordingly for the new millennium.