Canada 150: 30 Canadian Architecture Firms Breaking New Ground

Canada 150: 30 Canadian Architecture Firms Breaking New Ground

Canada has its share of iconic buildings and beautiful parks that give every city, neighbourhood and outpost their greatness. So who is shaping the next generation of iconic structures? Here are 30 Canadian architecture firms we’ve got our eye on.

In celebration of Canada Day, we went searching for 30 architecture and landscape architecture firms that express the power and vision of the nation. The last of our three-part series (see our lists of the best and brightest interior designers and product designers), these firms represent the future of Canada.

Some of our choices are studios that are fresh out of school and have yet to complete an entire building; others have won international competitions that will see their work realized on the other side of the world. At every scale they share a drive (some might call it an obsession) for pushing architecture to the limits in terms of technology, innovation and beauty.

Happy Canada Day.


Architect Microclimat, Montreal
A multidisciplinary design and construction firm, Microclimat has been influencing the architectural modernist style of Montreal one house at a time. Their projects are like poetic insertions into the city’s brick-built neighbourhoods, with one house, Residence Hotel-de-Ville, taking shape around a beloved backyard tree; another, Cour Saint-André turned a dilapidated shed into a multi-generational family home with separate entrances.

Why you should know them:
In collaboration with former Olympic athlete and coach Yannick Morin, the firm is now working on a bobsleigh pushway that will become part of La Taule training centre (shown), also built and designed by Microclimat. The new track will help Canada’s top bobbers swoosh their way to world records in the future.



Lebel + Bouliane, Toronto
An alum of Toronto firm Teeple Architects, founder Luc Bouliane launched his own studio in 2010. He initially started working on small projects, including a double-height library with shelves that jut out at odd angles, emulating the look of rock shales. His portfolio has since expanded to industrial, educational and cultural environments, including Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the historic point of entry into Canada that is now the National Museum of Immigration. Aesthetically, many of his projects still hold true to that initial shale profile, with rooflines set at dramatic off-kilter angles.

Why you should know them:
Now on the boards is a hub in Clearview, Ontario, that brings a community centre and library together as one cohesive institution. With fully glazed walls and high ceilings, the building (shown) will maximize on the possibility of shared-use spaces.



3 Atelier Barda, Montreal
Founded by Cécile Combelle, Julien Pinard and Antonio Di Bacco, Atelier Barda initially set up shop in Paris before launching a satellite office in Montreal in 2012. A year later, the firm completed Chalet Forestier (shown), a dramatically minimalist single-storey family cottage clad in blackened CLT. Its mysterious profile offers a bold contrast to the leafy surroundings of Frelighsburg, Quebec. Inside, the space is cozy with split firewood stacked to the ceiling on one wall. Atelier Barda describes its strategy as “refined interventions that aligns with budgets and market constraints.” We like their sensibility of effortlessly twining elegance with comfort.

Why you should know them:
The studio is a hive of exploration and experimentation. Custom work and construction is part of their practice, as is developing a new line of furniture pieces specifically for their projects.



4 Woodford Sheppard Architecture, St. John’s, Newfoundland
There are many reasons why starting a firm in Newfoundland is not a good idea. The most eastern province is short on jobs and population, and materials are expensive to import. Yet, Chris Woodford and Taryn Sheppard haven’t stopped working since they opened for business in 2013. Their portfolio includes more than a dozen mid-size projects encompassing community centres, churches and park facilities. Each brings a contemporary lift to The Rocks’ particular vernacular, including a love for colourfully painted clapboard siding.

Why you should know them:
A number of WS projects signal a change for the region. In particular is the firm’s ambitious concept for The Bridge (shown), a building that responds to the recent expansion of Newfoundland’s offshore oil industry and the need for both housing and office space. If built, the project would provide a campus that acts as a buffer zone between industrial and residential areas.



5 Studio AC, Toronto
Earlier this year, Studio AC (a.k.a. the Studio for Architecture and Collaboration) was all over design blogs with a project called Broadview Loft. The apartment occupies a classic loft warehouse in Toronto with its exposed brick walls and wooden beams brimming with old-world character. To counter those rough-hewn features, the firm added some theatrical elements, most notably a white archway that frames the master bedroom, or, as the studio prefers to call it, a bed box. In lieu of a door, the box is concealed via a sheer white curtain that spirals into a circle at one end. The spatial play of this small but charming home reminds us a bit of Giotto’s 14th-century frescos.

Why you should know them:
Principals Jennifer Kudlats and Andrew Hill are alums of KPMB Architects, where they first met. Running their own studio since 2015, they are now finishing up three residential renovations that express their taste for clean lines, wide open rooms, natural wood finishes and large doses of natural light.



6 UUfie, Toronto
UUfie is an anomaly, and not only for its unusual name. While many burgeoning firms on this list excel at combining rustic charm with stripped back modernism, UUfie’s aesthetic is not quite as reflective of the Great White North milieu. That has a lot to do with the fact that founders Irene Gardpoit and Eiri Ota both spent their post-grad years working in Tokyo at the offices of Arata Isozaki and Jun Aoki respectively. Now based in Toronto, their style subtly weaves tenets of Japanese design and sophistication, from a tiny northern cottage clad partly in mirrored surfaces to the iceberg-like LED facade of Ports 1961 flagship store in Shanghai (shown).

Why you should know them:
Besides architecture, Gardpoit and Ota are equally ambitious in developing unique furniture pieces that explore materiality. Earlier this year, they launched Echo, a series of side tables that seamlessly blend wood into metal.



7 5468796 Architecture, Winnipeg
Even a casual reader of Azure will be familiar with this maverick Winnipeg firm. We have written about almost every one of their projects since the firm launched in 2007. The reason for the attention is multifaceted. 5468796 challenges the status quo on many levels – through good design, but also its embrace of the city it lives in. Besides building multi-units and social housing locally, they have constructed a popular park bandshell and hosted mega-dinner parties outdoors and attended by hundreds of friends and neighbours. Thinking outside the box in a metropolis like Toronto is one thing; it’s another to be so experimental in a smaller city where conservative views can be much harder to outweigh.

Why you should (still) know them:
Years in the making, 62M condominium (shown) will reach completion before the year is out. The condominium-in-the-round, nicknamed the “flying saucer,” contains pie-shaped apartments that float 12 metres above street grade. Interestingly, this isn’t a luxe living project. The average unit is about 59 square metres in size and prices start at $210,000.



8 Studio North, Calgary
Matthew Kennedy and Mark Erickson bring together their shared interest in design and carpentry. Dream/Dive Platform, completed in 2015, may be modest in scale but its tremendous appeal reflects the kind of outdoorsy spirit that embodies the general philosophy of Studio North, which is that architecture first and foremost is a tool for improving our environments and enriching communities.

Why you should know them:
A lot of Kennedy and Erickson’s creative thinking is directed toward laneway housing, a popular idea that is rarely implemented beyond one-offs. Studio North has come up with an entertaining four-minute video outlining the pros for turning a backyard garage into a second home. It is hard to beat their logic for why laneway housing is an ideal way to accommodate such 21st-century realities as aging in place and the boomerang generation. The studio has built one laneway house so far. No doubt more are coming soon.



9 Atelier Général, Montreal
Light and space are the two main interests of Atelier Général, a boutique firm run by Alexis Naylor and Stephanie Plourde. Their earliest concepts include a plan for storing shoes in a grid of boxes and placed along a staircase wall. More recently the duo has earned second prize in a competition that revitalizes a riverside walk on Sainte Catherine in Montreal, featuring a series of yellow volumes on stilts that offer perches for taking in views of the St. Lawrence River.

Why you should know them:
Atelier Général is breathing new life into existing residential buildings. Recently the firm hollowed out a 150-year-old duplex and brought light into the space with the help of such add-ons as retractable walls and a large and movable island to the kitchen. The strategic moves can also be reconfigured to suit the owner’s needs or mood.



10 Office OU, Toronto
Prior to co-founding Office OU, Nicolas Koff worked at MAD in Beijing, Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Zeidler in Toronto. His studio partner Uros Novakovic also boasts an impressive CV, working with such firms as A00 Architecture in Shanghai, a practice that is pioneering the use of rammed earth construction. Now based in Toronto, the studio is exploring new forms of building. One of their first completed residential projects, K-House in Dundas, Ontario, uses straw bale construction. It is among first of its kind in Canada to be net zero.

Why you should know them:
Earlier this year Office OU won a major masterplan competition for Sejong City (shown). The 190,000-square-metre site has been mapped out to house administrative buildings and five national museums that sit among manicured and natural landscapes, including terraced rice fields. When completed in 2023, the project’s impact is expected to shift South Korea’s cultural focus from Seoul to Sejong.


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11 Omar Gandhi Architecture, Halifax and Toronto
Another regular within the pages of Azure, Omar Gandhi has built a half dozen private homes in his adopted province of Nova Scotia and they are characterized by simple geometric profiles and a love for modest materials. One of his most acclaimed projects is Rabbit Snare Gorge House (shown), a family house with a roofline so sharply pitched it looks as though it might have been been lifted from a storybook. You can detect influences of Gandhi’s former boss, Brian MacKay-Lyons, coming through, “but where MacKay-Lyon’s buildings twist, protrude and hover,” wrote Simon Lewsen in a recent issue of Azure, “Gandhi’s houses for the most part, sit firmly on the ground.”

Why you should know them:
With a second office now in Toronto, the studio is bringing and adapting rural sensibilities within an urban context. Says Gandhi: “I want my aesthetic to change constantly.” Last week, the firm took home a People’s Choice AZ Award for Rabbit Snare Gore.



12 Hapa Collaborative, Vancouver
Established in 2011, Hapa Collaborative has focus on reinvigorating Vancouver’s public spaces and streets with engaging playgrounds and inviting resting spots. The Terra Nova Rural Park in nearby Richmond, B.C., is made from dozens of massive logs while Megaphone is a pop-up shaped like a megaphone that’s big enough to stand inside. The installation helped amp people’s voices and in doing so turned a quiet parkette into a speaker’s corner.

Why you should know them:
Along with Nick Milkovich Architects and Matthew Soules Architecture, Hapa is responsible for the new Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza (shown), a $9.6-million renovation of the popular 4,197-square-metre square. The project, which had a soft opening on June 22, is already adored by locals. Its most defining feature is a tricolour mosaic of asymmetric tiles. In Canadian cities public squares can be few and far between. This plaza’s dramatic upgrade gives a new face to the entire downtown core.



13 Batay-Csorba Architects, Toronto
Before Andrew and Jodi Batay-Csorba launched their own studio in 2010, they had built up impressive resumes working for Gehry Partners, Morphosis and Gensler, among others. The husband-and-wife team are fearless in breaking with routine and their projects can look entirely different from one to the next.

Why you should know them:
We’re not the only ones who have noticed them. The Royal Institute of Architecture of Canada named the firm recipients of the 2017 Young Architect Award earlier this year. Currently on the books is a multi-use building to be built in Toronto’s Liberty Village called [Misfit]Fit. The six-storey volume is clad in boulder-like masses of precast concrete. Prior to that, the firm realized a duplex in Toronto with frontage made of slats of vertical wooden planks (shown). The effect was anything but heavy; more like a brise soleil that diffuses interior light into flecks and shadows.



14 La SHED, Montreal
La SHED is hardly a secret. With an office located in a corner depanneur in the Plateau district, founders Sébastien Parent, Yannick Laurin and Renée Mailhot – who met while studying at l’Université de Montréal – have left their mark across the city, with dozens of budget-smart renos that give Montreal’s beloved duplexes and triplexes a modern and refreshed reinterpretation. The firm’s work on more remote sites that are hidden among birch groves, for instance, are equally chic, with geometric forms clad in such off-the-shelf materials as cedar shingles. Sometimes, a coat of bright yellow paint is all they’ve added to give a room or passageway an urban lift.

Why you should know them:
The firm’s greatest strength is bringing new life to the streets of Montreal without taking anything away from what’s already so appealing about the city: its endless network of laneways and streets lined with walkups.



15 Public Work, Toronto
Toronto’s condo boom has created a dire need for green space and many of the most ambitious visions for a greener city have landed with Public Work, a landscape architecture firm headed by Adam Nicklin and Marc Ryan. The studio has some 15 projects on the boards in Toronto alone. One of the most anticipated is The Bentway, an unused stripe of land that runs underneath the Gardiner Expressway, near the lakeshore in the downtown core. The project (a co-production with urban designer Ken Greenberg) will see 1.75 kilometres of dirt and debris morphed into inviting walkways, bike paths and programmed amenities that will encourage people to meet, gather, skate or ride their bikes. Phase one (shown) opens Canada Day.

Why you should know them:
Public Work is one of the key players envisioning plans for a 400-hectare waterfront site in Toronto. Called the Port Lands, the massive project has just received a financial injection of $1.25-billion from three levels of government. It is the largest redevelopment project of its kind in the history of Toronto, and it is expected to transform the postindustrial area into new neighbourhoods and parks, while providing a necessary flood barrier.


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16 INPHO Architectures Physiques et d’Information, Montreal
We can’t say we “discovered” founding principal Jean-Maxime Labrecque, but then again we sort of did, back in 2013, when Azure contributor Austin Macdonald wrote about Labrecque’s Ex Duplex (shown). Essentially, the project entailed cutting a big square at the centre of the main floor of a typical Montreal duplex to access the crawl space below, thereby creating the effect of loft-height ceilings at the core of a bungalow. Besides being wholly original in his approach to problem solving, Labrecque is preoccupied with details. Ex Duplex’s appeal is also found in its stripped back material choices, like chain-link fencing acting as a staircase rail and an all-black shower room next to an all-white bedroom.

Why you should know them:
Labrecque has been busy working on various projects both large and micro, including retail interiors, apartment spaces and the reimagining of a Tudor house as a sleek of-the-moment interior defined by white walls, mirrored internal volumes and hardwood floors. Already this year, the office has earned three Grands Prix du Design awards.



17 DIN Projects, Winnipeg
Last year, DIN Projects completed the inspiring Pole House (shown), a rural project clad in workaday corrugated steel, and with plain old plywood making up the interior walls and floors. On all sides of the three-level cottage are windows that offer lookouts from below and above. Designed for a small family, the house sits within a forested area of Manitoba and while Lake Winnipeg is nearby, the cottage isn’t exactly sitting at the water’s edge. So DIN Projects came up with another way to view the lake, by elevating the house on steel pipe columns. No unlike a bird perch, Pole House now has views of the lake beyond the treetops.

Why you should know them:
DIN Projects has been in business for close to 20 years but it has flown under the radar at times. Projects like Pole House, though, are intriguing examples of the studio’s interest in experiential architecture that responds to a specific environment. The firm is now working on a home-office infill project and converting a historic hotel into a boutique hotel.



18 Paul Bernier Architects, Montreal
In 2015, Paul Bernier completed a cedar-clad cottage called House on Lac Grenier (shown), and gave the long and narrow volume a turn near the halfway point. The bend was, in part, his way of maximizing on views of the surrounding landscape in Quebec cottage country. The cedar slat project got mega-attention from architectural press, too, for its site sensitivity. The asymmetry of the project was also designed to work its way between a stream on the south end and a steep slope on the north side.

Why you should know him:
Besides its beauty, House on Lac Grenier is sustainable and uses passive solar heating and cooling. The project was a finalist for the 2015 Prix d’excellence de l’Ordre des architectes du Québec.



19 Naturehumaine, Montreal
Toronto may be the biggest city in Canada, but Montreal has greater architectural talent. This is hard to dispute when you think of firms like Saucier + Perrotte, which has influenced such impressive offshoots as ACDF. One firm that consistently raises the city’s talent bar is Naturehumaine. Established in 2004 by Stéphane Rasselet, the studio’s residential projects are masterful executions that read as familiar, though never stale. The overarching aesthetic is governed by a tricolour palette of natural blonde wood, black accents and white everywhere else. And, the occasional hit of citrus yellow.

Why you should know them:
We like the firm’s motto, “Not just a pretty picture in a magazine,” but politely disagree. All of Naturehumanine’s projects look exceptional in print, but they are also very livable. The firm has brought the family home into the 21st century with a light and lasting touch.



20 Polymétis, Toronto
One of this multidisciplinary studio’s great strengths is their embrace of winter using small gestures that make citizens feel good about being outside in subzero temperatures. Last year, the firm of two, run by Nichola Croft and Michaela MacLeod, placed a small cabin-like cube near the shores of Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto – a part of the city most people rarely visit during the colder months. Mysterious and alluring all at once, Ice Box (shown) provided a moment of respite from the cold, while its black plexiglass cladding reflected the urban surroundings.

Why you should know them:
When Polymétis won the Prix de Rome for Emerging Practitioners, a year-long scholarship, they used the funds to visit 20 international sites that take a design approach to reclaiming waste sites within cities. We’re excited to see how Polymétis finds ways to apply this knowledge for cultivating public spaces out of wastescapes.



21 MAAStudio, Vancouver
What appeals most about MAAStudio, run by Marianne Amodio, is the firm’s interest in transforming the kind of building topologies that tend to get ignored – the low-lying apartment block, for instance, which is so common in Vancouver. The other is the use bold colour. For a 12-storey micro-unit retrofit in Vancouver, Amodio gave the exterior an upgrade by painting the balcony soffits with hits of brilliant hues – a small gesture that goes a long way in making the building and streetscape downright cheerful.

Why you should know them:
Outside of Newfoundland, bright colours on the outside of buildings is usually avoided. Amodio’s burgeoning studio, located in Chinatown, isn’t afraid to bring out colour in her work, adding an instant hit of whimsy and quirkiness to her projects.



22 Office of Adrian Phiffer, Toronto
Like many burgeoning offices, Adrian Phiffer holds down various jobs, including teaching at the University of Toronto’s school of architecture. He and his studio colleagues Dimitrios Karopoulos and Diana Franco Camacho have yet to break ground on a project, but one concept that caught our eye recently is Semblance House (shown), a proposal that would see a mysteriously bunker-like, cast-in-place concrete home built on a street in Toronto that is defined by midcentury family houses. “At first glance, it is not attractive,” says Phiffer. But that is by intention. The idea is that it be read in context to the neighbourhood and its features would be added over time, making the house an ever-evolving project. It’s a fitting concept for a firm that revels in the unknown as a way to keep things authentic.

Why you should know them:
The firm makes little distinction between art and architecture. Their competition entries have ranged from imagining Guggenheim Helsinki as a giant purple barge to a winter warming hut that lends out orange blanks to keep ice skaters warm.



23 Jean Verville Architects, Montreal
Like many others, Azure has been a fan of Jean Verville’s work ever since he redid the interior of a Montreal apartment in bold colour blocks; it looked as though a place where Kidrobot’s Paul Budnitz might live. We remain enamoured by Verville’s ability to infuse gentle moments of humour into the hifalutin world of contemporary minimalism. FAHouse (shown), winner of the 2017 AZ Awards for Best Residential project, is defined by a steep A-line roof that reaches almost to the ground. Located on a wooded lot, its black corrugated metal coat hides the house among evergreens. Inside, however, the space is bright and airy with full-height glazing surrounding the kitchen and living areas. Meanwhile, a mud room is painted entirely red, while an attic playroom is all white.

Why you should know him:
Because Jean Verville is fun, fun, fun.



24 JA Architecture Studio, Toronto
Run by Nima Javidi, Behnaz Assadi and Hanieh Rezaei, JA Architecture Studio has pursued two streams of work since launching in 2008: they design exquisitely crafted storefronts, retail environments and infill houses throughout Toronto while simultaneously entering high-profile international competitions. In 2015, their submission for the Guggenheim Helsinki competition (shown) received an Honourable Mention amongst 1,715 entries.

Why you should know them:
Now under construction is Duple Dip, a minimalist house in Toronto’s westend that from the exterior looks like a chapel. Inside, the sparse interior connects four outdoor spaces.



25 Atelier TAG, Montreal
Founded in 1997 by Manon Asselin and Katsuhiro Yamazaki, Atelier TAG has not gone unrecognized for its incredibly refined sensibilities when it comes to the civic function of architecture as a way to create meaningful experiences for its users. Case in point is the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation (shown), a Montreal institution for independent study. The nearly all white interior, wrote Azure contributor Davie Theodore “has the thin precision and crisp detailing of a museum lobby.”

Why you should know them:
The firm’s most recent cultural institution is a stellar example of how to expand a space within a crowded streetscape. The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal is a multi-stacked glass volume that pivots outward as it rises floor by floor. The project has gone on to win numerous prizes and accolades.



26 Angela Tsementzis Architect, Toronto
A graduate of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture and former employee at Toronto’s Superkul studio, Angela Tsementzis has built one house so far, and it’s a great one. Called Concrete House (shown), its double stacked cube is larger on top than below, thus creating a 4.5-metre cantilever that faces onto a tree-lined yard and ravine.

Why you should know her:
Concrete House has been a calling card for Tsementzis, who now has a number of residential projects underway in Toronto. She has also been integral in restoring the Hilborn House, in Waterloo, Ontario, a house that was originally built by Canadian icon Arthur Erickson in 1973.



27 Partisans, Toronto
Few new Canadian firms have garnered as much praise as Partisans, a Toronto studio that is fully engaged with state-of-the-art technology and what it can do for the built environment. It all started with a private sauna (shown) nested on a rock at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Inside, the wood interior seems almost liquid, with rolling curves a la Zaha Hadid, though with the exposed wood acting as a playful nod to Canadiana. Raval Bar, a tapas establishment in Toronto run by top chef Grant van Gameren, is another example of the firm’s obsession with CAD creations and CNC milling. The Gaudi-esque interior and bar amenities are milled out of mahogany and pieced together like a puzzle.

Why you should know them:
The early success of Partisans hasn’t meant they have rested on past laurels. Among other large-scale projects the studio is working on is the rebirth of Union Station, Toronto’s central rail hub. The station is now undergoing a massive expansion that will see it double in size, mostly by digging underground. The project is expected to be completed in 2018.



28 Public City Architecture, Winnipeg
Azure has been a fan of Peter Sampson’s ever since he built the most attractive public washrooms out of shipping containers for the Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg (shown). We’ve also celebrated Plain Projects, a landscape and social infrastructure studio based in the same city, who were part of Hygge House, a temporary warming hut that doubled as an outdoor performance stage for entertaining ice skaters as they glided along Winnipeg’s Red River. The house graced our cover in 2013. The two firms have now merged to form Public City Architecture and they are committing themselves ever more deeply to bringing fun and sustainability to the public realm.

Why you should know them:
Making winter fun is one of the PCA’s main preoccupations. Their latest social engagement effort appeared on a public ice rink in Winnipeg last winter: a giant “crokicurl” game that mixes the rules of the tabletop board game crokinole with the physical scale of a curling rink.



29 Taylor Architecture Group, Yellowknife
When TAG describes its “team” they talk mostly about weather: light, sun, snow, wind and polarizing extremes. In other words, climate in the Yellowknife is an all-consuming reality that influences every aspect of building in the region. According to the firm, understanding drifting snow and how it interacts with a building, for instance, is key to a successful project above the tree line. And the sun is a commodity that has to be fully utilized to make spaces livable and sustainable. Run by Simon Taylor, this burgeoning firm is expert in melding contemporary sensibilities with pragmatic needs.

Why you should know them:
TAG has recently opened a satellite office in Toronto so they can work closely with interior design firm Cecconi Simone on a new hotel opening in Yellowknife.



30 D’arcy Jones Architecture, Vancouver
Architect D’Arcy Jones founded his boutique studio in 2009 and has since carved out a niche in building and renovating elegant houses in Vancouver that accentuate the very best aspects of modern residential living: linear geometries, understated finishes, and sensational views beyond fully glazed walls.

Why you should know them:
When so many houses are being torn down due to Vancouver’s red hot real estate market, DJA is seeing the
re-using of older buildings as an opportunity for architectural innovation and recycling. In May, the firm received the Award of Excellence for best emerging architectural practice from the Royal Institute of Architecture of Canada.

Special thanks to Adele Weder in Vancouver and David Theodore in Montreal, both design and architecture writers and regular Azure contributors, for their input.

What do you think of our picks? Join the conversation on Twitter; tweet at @AzureMagazine with #design150

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