Toronto firm Batay-Csorba Architects blurs the line between public and private spaces with interactive facades that warrant a second look from passers-by.
The participatory quality of facades is not always overt, but it should always be present. At least, that is what Andrew and Jodi Batay-Csorba believe. The principals behind Toronto firm Batay-Csorba Architects have made unique cladding systems a focus for their small but growing practice. Recently, along a treed street in downtown Toronto, they completed a three-storey duplex with a facade that quietly interrupts a row of Victorian-era red-brick dwellings in a way that is wholly original; the front appears as a curious abstraction of vertical geometries found in the neighbourhood of mostly bay-and-gable architecture.
“We wanted to engage passers-by in a dialogue,” says Andrew of the screens. Made from thermally treated eastern pine, the brise-soleils are affixed to the upper two storeys of each house and extend just over two metres beyond glazed walls on the second and third levels. The multiple components fit easily together with the horizontal inserts set at 15– and 45-degree angles, reinforcing the vertical continuity of the adjacent houses, and orientated to catch the sun in different ways with the shifting daylight and through changing seasons. “There is a certain level of participation with them; the more you interact with them, the more you begin to see different things,” says Andrew. He likens the effect to the meditative game of cloud watching. In fact, at certain hours of the day, the outline of a camel, raccoon, panther, crocodile or giraffe can be made out – a playful detail that most people may never notice. (The gesture was inspired by the architects’ three-and-a-half-year-old son.)
From inside, the effect offers a strangely open sense of privacy. Light filters through the cut-outs, drenching each level with ample sunshine, while the angle variations help obscure views in from the street.
Recently awarded the RAIC Young Architect Award, Andrew and Jodi have been working together since they were undergrads at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan. After gaining experience at Gehry Partners and Morphosis, they formed their own practice in 2010, with the intention of establishing an identity that focuses on various architectural themes, from materiality and patterning to context and landscape. “You can’t distill architecture down to one thing,” says Andrew, “you have to be flexible, but also have a critical and progressive practice.” One of their next projects, a new six-storey office building in the city’s west end, is equally focused on the exterior, though not in wood. The structure will be fronted with sculpted precast concrete panels. “We want to produce buildings that create a conversation,” says Andrew, “and hope they will affect people in a positive way.”