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2006 02 16
Architect + Client = High Art
Photo by Steve Evans

Architects from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry say their best work results from collaborations with informed clients. A Toronto house acclaimed as one of “The World’s 12 Best New Buildings in 2005,” celebrates the role clients play in the making of quality architecture.

The modernism inspired “Art Collector’s Residence” graces a part of the city better known for its faux-European manor homes. In a community encumbered by architectural references to nobility, this house reminds us that a cultured life provides its own identity.

When the collectors decided to build a new home, they sought out Larry Richards, the former Dean of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, to help them find a local architect who could achieve their vision. After visiting buildings by a number of local architects, they chose the designers of the recently completed McKinsey office on Charles Street. The McKinsey building’s integrity gave them the confidence to believe that their architectural vision was achievable.

The couple asked Hariri-Pontarini Architects to create a house like no other. Long-time collectors of glass art, they wanted a home that would celebrate their passion for collecting art and compliment it with the art of living well.

The site is a good one. The 13,000 square foot, two-storey home, occupies a room-like square of land screened on all sides by columnar fir trees. The building’s limestone second-storey façade bisects the property and acts as an armature for the house’s public and private functions.

Partner in charge, Siamak Hariri, and project manager Jaegap Chung’s material palette is one the studio used with precision on the McKinsey office. Warm grey Algonquin limestone gives the building its outward authority while remaining plastic enough to liberate the spaces within.

A visitor’s first impression is that the upper façade’s material weight overpowers the mostly glass-clad lower floor. This notion recedes with a second reading as the material robustness of key design elements on the ground level reassert their strength.

The roofline offers an expressionistic beat with a raised clerestory that pivots around a vertical cut in the limestone facade. Those diagonal elements figuratively redirect the building’s mass just enough to allow the thick oak and teak window mullions below to resist the downward load.

Outside — to the left of the main entry — is a single-story study with semi-rusticated chimney. Its discretely curved outer wall points to the entryway. Early in the design consultation the building evolved into three functional zones: the necessary domestic core flanked on one side by galleries and on the other by a spa.

On the left of the entry is a gallery space terminated by a spiral stair to a private gallery. Ahead, the main living spaces pivot around a fireplace open on both sides. On one side is the living room on the other the dining area. Walnut grounds the interior spaces in the form of a rich, dark floor plane.

The fireplace’s boxed chimney rises up through a second floor skylight that washes the painting clad surface with indirect light — a technique used throughout the house. On the right of the entry, along the front glass wall, is a straight stair to the living quarters above. The inner wall of the stair defines a well-appointed kitchen. Opposite the entryway are glass doors leading to an exterior courtyard edged by a series of cascading pools.

One quickly notices that the further away from the core living spaces one travels the purer the spatial elements become. For example, the southern most rooms are galleries. At the west end of the “L” shaped floor plan, is a large, indoor pool.

Primal elements drive the house’s unfolding narrative. The centre of the gallery wing is its fireplace. Animating the spa wing’s blue pool is water spilling through a long horizontal cut over a heavy limestone wall.

These elements of fire and water — held in tension by their symbolic opposition — are linked by a gently wave profiled ceiling found on both sides of the house.

A soft, white Venetian plaster covers the interior walls of the house. Their warm tactility compliments the clients’ glass collection while maintaining just enough personality to define the house’s minimal spaces.

Upstairs, the master bedroom is an integral part of an extended private gallery. A robust, half-height wall that hinges back to allow access to the bedroom is a slight concession to the clients’ privacy. The space represents the collectors’ idea that art and life are inseparable.

The house’s rich simplicity provides a backdrop to the clients’ lives. Their intelligent collaboration with Siamak Hariri results in a building that represents excellence in international architectural design. It has already won the Tucker Stone Design Award and an Architecture Magazine Award.

With exceptional local practitioners including Shim-Sutcliffe, Ian Macdonald, Velikov + Thun, and Hariri Pontarini, Toronto is becoming known for the expertise of our designers as well as for the vision of our clients.

This story cross-published in Wednesday's National Post under "Deliciously Stoic' Catches Attention."
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 02/16 at 02:03 PM

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