In Toronto’s Forest Hill, Canvas House is an outlier. Surrounded by stately Georgian homes, the residence (which is also a private art gallery) is shrouded in a meticulously sculpted and undulating brick facade that signals a departure from the familiar. It also exemplifies how Partisans — the architecture firm behind the unconventional expression — is able to manipulate a traditional building material to create shock value.
With advances in automated assembly, 3D printing, robotics, augmented reality and digital design, modern day approaches to masonry have become more scientific and refined, forging a new frontier in innovation and its capabilities. For Canvas House, however, Partisans chose to go a little old-school. The firm worked closely with local mason Finbarr Sheehan and his crew (which included Duffy + Associates and Picco), who individually placed just over 16,200 bricks — one brick type in three different dimensions — onto repeating five-brick modules in a custom square-shaped “Voxel-Bond” pattern reminiscent of the dot paintings of artist Larry Poons. Laid over two hundred sections, the bricks draw the eye across the surface in a frantic dance, creating the illusion of movement. Aside from aesthetics, the facade’s rhythm also serves two functions: It swells outward as an overhang above the door and recedes to allow light into the home around a second-floor skylight.
The resulting composition is an ode to the elegance of Georgian architecture. It finds its way inside through gently curved walls that blend seamlessly with the ceilings, as well as architectural fixtures like sinuously carved baseboards, door handles and handrails. Light-filled and mostly white, the interiors offer fluid, contemplative and calm spaces that, in juxtaposition with the crafted masonry work of the exterior, make the Canvas House an apt home for its residents and their captivating contemporary art collection.
A brick-clad facade by Partisans evokes an exterior sense of movement in a Toronto neighbourhood.