When George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg first met with Canadian Olympic officials about the prospect of their eponymous studio designing a space for the 2016 Summer Games, both sides walked in assuming they were selling the idea to the other. Halfway into that initial meeting with Olympic Committee CEO Chris Overholt, Pushelberg says he finally had to cut off a lengthy pitch, “OK Chris, enough! We already want to do this, we’re in!”
The Toronto- and New York-based designers are known for their massive portfolio of upper echelon interiors around the world. From the Four Seasons hotels in Tokyo and Toronto to Barney’s in New York, to the Dalloyau tea rooms in Hong Kong and Paris, Yabu Pushelberg has established a significant global presence. Yet they continue to emphasize their Canadian-ness. “We are a proudly Canadian company and we want to do more for our country,” says Pushelberg.
Canada House will serve as accommodations for family members and guests who are in Rio to support our Olympians. The games are an emotional rollercoaster for the athletes and their loved ones, and Canada House provides thoughtfully designed spaces to celebrate victories as well as to lament losses. This pro bono gig sees Yabu Pushelberg working with longtime collaborators Moss & Lam as well as a some surprising new one: Canadian Tire. The country’s most quintessential retail brand stepped up to furnish Canada House, as Canada’s Olympic initiatives and programming relies on the support of sponsors.
“It was definitely a new experience for us – specifying out of the Canadian Tire catalogue,” says Yabu, who met the challenge gleefully. “Creativity does not equate to the amount of money spent. And this project celebrates the transformation of simple, readily available objects and materials to express a verve and vitality unique to this time and place.”
Moss & Lam, the Toronto art studio which has created stunning installations in countless YP spaces, was brought in to add a signature flourish to the space. “We love Canadian Tire,” Deborah Moss enthuses. “There’s one just around the corner from us. Whenever we need screws or whatever, we go on a ‘Tire run’ – so this was kind of a dream project.” Inspired by Canadian sports icons such as canoes and paddles, Moss’s piece for the space was assembled with help from a young team from the Etobicoke School of the Arts. “It was a great opportunity to help kids understand how art can work in the real world.”
Yabu Pushelberg’s Canada House is currently being ferried across the ocean to Rio de Janeiro, where it will be met in a few weeks’ time by a team from the studio that will oversee its installation in an existing aquatics centre. “It was built in the ’90s, so it’s a bit dated and utilitarian. But the people there are so excited; they want to keep some elements after the Games,” Yabu mentions. While they likely won’t hang onto the Canadian flags that dominate the design, the red and white palette makes clear that no matter how the Games go, Canada will be leaving a lasting impression.