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Go behind the scenes on innovative projects and products with AZURE
AZURE Video: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Safe Hands
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AZURE Video: Partisans Bends Light to Create the Ghostly Gweilo
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AZURE Video: Inside Toronto’s Integral House
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Azure Video
Azure Video

Toronto’s busiest intersection now has the landmark it deserves. Safe Hands, a lustrous installation comprised of two stainless-steel towers, now soars an impressive 88 feet at Yonge and Bloor. The work was commissioned by Great Gulf to reside just in front of its One Bloor high-rise (designed by local firm Hariri Pontarini) and envisioned by Ron Arad, the renowned Israeli-born, London-based designer and architect.

AZURE went behind the scenes to film Safe Hands’ making and installation. We stepped inside the Toronto fabrication studio – Streamliner, run by Stephen Richards – where the piece’s huge, hollow cylindrical segments were heated and crushed, by a custom-built squishing device, to assume their crumpled edges. No two pieces alike, the elements would later be stacked to create a duo of towers that twist around each other without touching.

If you are familiar with the work of Ron Arad, you know that crushing steel is a theme he returns to again and again. Beyond creating furniture for Moroso and Driade and iconic buildings – including the Design Museum Holon – around the world, Arad is also known for his artworks that often involve flattening metal objects, most famously a bunch of Fiat 500 cars in his In Reverse series of installations. When award-winning developer Great Gulf commissioned him to create Safe Hands, they chose the right person for the job.

Arad worked closely with Streamliner (which provides custom fabrication for public sculptures large and small) to realize his vision and make his renderings come to life. He visited the Toronto factory at the project’s outset and developed a rapport with Richards that would allow their collaboration to become an intuitive one that could be completed even as the two communicated across the pond.

Its stainless-steel tubes welded together and painted vibrant hues at their joints, the tower is now a focal point at Yonge and Bloor Streets. And it’s also the subject of a Doors Open talk on Saturday (tomorrow) moderated by Azure Editorial Director Nelda Rodger and featuring Ron Arad, Great Gulf Executive Vice President Alan Vihant, Dragana Maznic of Dragana Maznic Design and Jane Perdue, Senior Planner Urban Design at the City of Toronto. Tickets to the talk, being held at St. Paul’s Bloor Street at 1PM, are free (first come, first served). Details are 

In its raw form, the Gweilo light isn’t much more than a sheet of clear acrylic. But after undergoing Partisans’ in-house production process, it transforms into something else entirely, becoming a sculpted object that looks almost like solidified liquid. Once lit, it’s ethereal, and spooky.

“We’re transforming light at its source,” is how Partisans’ co-founder Alex Josephson describes the free-formed Gweilo. “They reinvent the source of light as sculpture.”

Indeed, the process is sculptural. Azure spent a few hours earlier this week at the Partisans studio, filming their making. Using a thermoforming process, Josephson and his team take optical-grade acrylic sheets and heat them to nearly 400 degrees, until the plastic becomes pliable. They then hand-sculpt the panes, forming beautiful waves and bends that set in place as the plastic cools. The panels, which are embedded with a fine-spun grid of tiny LED bulbs, are then placed in a custom-made extrusion.

Partisans is best known for its architectural work, including Toronto’s Bar Raval, which garnered accolades from the design world (and from tapas fans) for its curvaceous interior made of CNC’d mahogany. Josephson created the first Gweilo lights initially as an experimental luminary installation almost three years ago. In 2016, Azure awarded those prototypes with an AZ Award for Best Lighting Installation.

Now, in partnership with LightForm, the studio is turning the luminaire into a market-ready product with a family of Gweilo lights, ranging from desktop scale (25 to 50 centimetres tall), to floor lamps that stand over a metre-and-a-half tall.

The custom-built light is being launched next week in Toronto, with a “live-forming” performance and display at the Interior Design Show, January 19 to 22, 2017. Architect Omar Gandhi, sculptor Harley Valentine and designer Tommy Smythe will join the Partisans team in creating the lights; the proceeds of the guest-created Gweilos will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

To celebrate Azure’s 30th anniversary, we are spotlighting the place where it all began: Toronto. And one of the most outstanding residential projects to be found in our home city is Integral House, a masterful four-storey Rosedale home completed in 2009 by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects.

Designed for Jim Stewart, a renowned mathematician and concert musician, the house is half residence and half recital hall, capable of hosting some 200 guests during a performance. Three weeks before Stewart died of cancer in December 2014, we visited the house, along with videographer Chris Clifford, to document the interior spaces with architect Brigitte Shim and documentary filmmaker Joseph Clement, whose feature film on Stewart and the house will be released later this year. Stewart himself offers some surprising insight on curves and their significance to his unique home.

For more stories that feature Toronto design and celebrate Azure’s 30 years, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram with the hashtag #Azure30.