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Karir Eyewear boutique in First Canadian Place

The largest underground shopping complex in the world, Toronto’s 30-kilometre-long PATH system of pedestrian tunnels connects over 50 buildings in total — including five subway stations, a railway terminal, and North America’s busiest shopping mall. And yet, despite its many amenities, its primary function is to funnel commuters from point A to point B, especially during the winter months when it serves as a welcome reprieve from the blustering cold. Like most malls, the PATH has long suffered from a sense of placelessness, which is only amplified by its subterranean setting. At the base of First Canadian Place, a skyscraper in the city’s financial district, Karir Eyewear’s striking new flagship designed by local firm Drew Mandel Architects is an emphatic counterpoint to this architectural banality.

Karir Eyewear as seen from the mall

Thanks to its prominent corner position within the PATH, the boutique’s sculptural pink plaster entrance immediately draws the eye. A break from the otherwise rectilinear mall glazing, the textured façade hints at an immersive retail experience. The curved wall continues inside, forming part of a circular enclosure around which the boutique’s programs — product displays, an optometry clinic and on-site lens crafting laboratory — are organized. This partition breaks and changes in height, creating what the designers describe as “peekaboo views” throughout the 258-square-metre interior.

Retail store with pink plaster walls

While the boutique is on the ground level, its location at the core of the mall meant the space lacked access to natural light, making it a less-than-ideal environment to pick out a pair of specs. In response, the architects designed the entire space to eliminate shadows, and a back-lit fabric panel on the ceiling not only serves as an “interior skylight” that simulates natural light but marks a focal point at the store’s centre. Beneath it, a series of round pedestals at different heights highlight the various products on offer.

Customer care tables at Karir Eyewear

To balance the visual noise of the mall, the designers stuck to a soothing monochromatic palette, instead opting to introduce subtle visual interest through texture and material. Drawing from the understated luxury and craft of vintage train carriage booths, the white oak customer care tables around the store’s perimeter feature intricate wood details and leather- and fabric-wrapped panels.

Eyewear boutique with round pedestal displays and curved plaster walls

Meanwhile, under the glow of the skylight, a custom carpet riffs on the complexity of an eye’s iris, with twelve concentric grey-taupe rings that radiate outwards from dark to light. Due to the grade change between King and Adelaide Street, which the store is sited between, the architects were able to incorporate a sunken garden of grasses and ferns which peeks out from behind the plaster walls, introducing a biophilic element.

Entrance to Karir Eyewear

With the massive, imposing quality of Stonehenge and the sculptural appeal of Richard Serra’s works, the circular structure carves out intimate, inviting spaces within Karir Eyewear’s interior. Taking an unexpected approach, Drew Mandel Architects has inserted an entirely new architecture into a conventional retail shell.

A Subtle Yet Sculptural Eyewear Boutique in Toronto

Designed by local firm Drew Mandel Architects, Karir Eyewear’s circular pink lime plaster walls simultaneously evoke Stonehenge and the sculptures of Richard Serra.

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