Unique and Intriguing Houses in Toronto
By Elli Davis, February 7, 2013
Toronto by Small
Almost every city has its own unique buildings that have become well known for their unusual shape or style. In Toronto, there are several intriguing buildings like the Ontario College of Art and Design and the Royal Ontario Museum. But there are many other lesser known architectural works in Toronto that stand out, especially when we consider residential architecture.
One of the better known Toronto houses is the home of painter and sculptor Charles Pachter, located on Grange Avenue. Originally an old factory and warehouse with a garage that was demolished, Pachter turned it into his gallery and studio. It did not serve as his home until its renovation by architect Stephen Teeple. The building consists of three long, interlocked boxes, each dedicated to a different purpose. The main floor serves as a gallery for his works and an open space for countless events. The lower level is Pachter's studio, connected to his living quarters on the top floor via a small elevator.
Many people walking down Coxwell Avenue don't know what to make of this really strange house at number 157. To some it might look like a tower made out of lego, a weird playground, or a Rubik's cube. The tall, skinny, multicoloured house on four stilts connected to the sidewalk by a 35-foot bridge certainly isn't something you see every day. The original concept by architect Rohan Walters was based on the idea of finding alternative solutions to problematic properties. For example, the lot at Coxwell Avenue was not only small in size (about 23 feet wide and 130 feet long), but 20 inches of topsoil also made it absolutely ineligible for any foundations. Thus the only option was to use stilts extended 46 feet into the ground, giving the house both stability and parking space underneath.
It is no surprise that some of Toronto's unique houses even make it into movies. Such is the case with Heathdale House, home to the married couple and their son (played by Liam Neeson, Juliane Moore, and Max Thieriot) in Atom Egoyan's film Chloe. The plot revolves around the couple and a prostitute (played by Amanda Siefried) hired by the wife to see if the husband would be untrue to her, but naturally, things get complicated in an unexpected way. As if one unusual house is not enough, the residence on Heathdale road is featured only in the exterior shots, while another unorthodox house is employed for the shots of the interior. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, Heathdale House was projected by Teeple Architects, the same company who designed Charles Pachter's home.
The interior of Chloe's protagonists' home is "played" by the Ravine House by Drew Mandel Design — another intriguing example of contemporary architecture. The unfaithfulness and insecurity that are present throughout the film are visually enhanced by the building's architecture. Seemingly balanced on the edge of the ravine that obviously gave the house its name, with walls and openings made of crystal-clear glass, heavy use of hard steel, and exposed concrete block, it all offers such a dramatic atmosphere that it is hard to imagine that this house is supposed to offer coziness and warmth like any other home.
Inspired by the Rotterdam cube buildings designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, Toronto's own cube house has stood at Sumach Street since 1996. An unexpected design in an unexpected place, with few houses nearby, the idea behind the construction of this cube house was to show how to effectively build low-cost housing on an otherwise unusable small plot of land. It consists of three cubes resting on slender, 18-foot long metal columns. The original project was supposed to have seven of these cubes. Each of the three cubes is 800 square feet, but provides 1,200 feet square of floor space over three floors. The cube house is both earthquake and fire resistant and without need of air-conditioning because of the roofs' vents providing enough cooling when open.
In contrast to some of the above houses, designed to fit on a small-sized plot or to keep the structure and its operating costs low, stands Integral House. Home to math professor Dr. James Stewart, also a former violinist with the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra, is a spectacular accordion-like structure that houses a 150-seat concert hall. Designed by Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, Stewart's residence combines wood and concrete with enormous amounts of glass. Countless curves give the Integral House a very lush and dynamic feeling, also strengthened by many minimalistic yet vibrant aesthetics, such as the spectacular staircase made through the collaborative effort of the architects, glass artist Mimi Gellman, and structural engineer David Bowick. The unique staircase is a truly unusual work of art composed of hand-blown, laminated, blue glass rectangles that are supported by stainless steel cables and cast bronze clips. Despite being built in 2009, the house has instantly become part of Toronto's must-see architecture.
Another fascinating residence, called the Cascade House, can be found in Toronto's Forest Hill neighbourhood. Projected by Paul Raff Studio, its specific orientation on a Cartesian axis and its tall windows are designed to maximize the house's potential for natural daylight. Its environmentally responsible design lies in its use of solar energy to warm the house during the evenings. This effective approach to light and heating is achieved not only through orientation but also by the high-performance building envelope with passive solar design systems, an expansive window along the south side of the house, and a large internal slate wall. What makes the Cascade House unique is the 13-foot window made of 475 panels of 19mm vertically stacked glass in a crenellated pattern that evokes a fantastic waterfall impression.
Throughout recent years, more and more intriguing and unique houses have been appearing in Toronto. It's the result of contemporary architecture dealing with modern problems such as lack of building space, environmental performance, economical issues, and last but not least, the artistry of architecture.