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Building Styles

The Twenty-first Century

Origins --- --- 21st Century Architecture -- 21st Century Architects -- Keeping Current

Residential--- Curran - Scime/Curran--- Shim-Sutcliffe - Integral House--- Nobourg--- Merrickville
Gananoque--- Holland Landing--- Brockville--- Simcoe--- Dundas

Civic--- Ghery - AGO--- -- OCAD-- Dan Pharmacy Buildinggaraurg--- Merrickville
Gananoque--- Holland Landing--- Brockville--- Simcoe--- Dundas

Commercial--- Under Construction--- Niagara-on-the-Lake--- Cobourg--- Merrickville
Gananoque--- Holland Landing--- Brockville--- Simcoe--- Dundas

Origins of the Ultra Modern

Modern architecture is difficult to categorize. After 1950, most major buildings are "one-offs."

Twenty-first century architecture is international: looking at the Pritzker website , the online catalogue of cutting edge design, the projects could be anywhere. Architects have their own personal style and a preference for a certain set of materials, but they don't easily fall into a style or concept trajectory the way Classical, Romanesque or Gothic do. What are professors of history of architecture in the year 2500 going to do? It's true that Foster's Swiss Re building has, affectionately, been referred to as the "Gerkin," and it is only a matter of time before someone notices that Ghery's Guggenheim in Bilbao could be seen as an unfolding cabbage, but it is unlikely that, in the fullness of time, this period will be referenced within the general category of "Garden Vegetable Modern."

Never mind the way they look , the most sophisticated medieval scholar would shake his head at the very concept of either the Swiss Re or the Guggenheim museum. The proposal for a huge building as the headquarters for an international

banking enterprise would have been as difficult to sell as the idea of a monument dedicated to selected individuals expressing themselves in meaningful ways. Department stores, airline terminals, automotive factories, atmospheric research centres, nuclear reactor sites - all of these are 20th century buildings and there are no historic precedents, vegetable or otherwise.

Twenty-first century in Ontario

Twenty-first century architecture in Ontario is as international as any on the planet. The population of Ontario has doubled over the past 50 years, most of the growth being in cities. The population of Toronto has increased by 600 percent. This has resulted in much of the 'historic' architecture of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in downtown locations being torn down to provide offices and multiple housing facilities.

While many people regret what seems to be a complete lack of a reasonable plan for areas such as transportation, energy grids, and conservation of both green space and natural resources, not to mention the rapidly disappearing historic properties, the upside is that Ontario is home to some of the most revolutionary, cutting edge, and beautiful buildings created this millennium.

Twenty-first Century Architects in Ontario

In a documentary filmed in 1998, Frank Ghery discusses his new monument, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain. In that interview, Ghery said "They don't like me at home." Ghery was born and raised in Toronto just a few blocks from the Art Gallery of Ontario. Like many Canadian artists, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and William Shatner, just to name a few, Ghery had to leave Canada and make a name for himself elsewhere before he was considered of any importance here. Anyone who has been to the new AGO will be glad that we were able to get him back.

While Gehry is certainly the most famous internationally, there are a large number of architects working in and around Ontario producing excellent work. On this site I will outline just a few. The pages on Sustainable architecture will showcase other work that focusses on the sustainable side of design.

A full list of Ontario architects can be found on the OAA site. In addition, this site will show you where and how to choose an architect for your project.

Sources: Periodicals, Magazines, Newspapers

Those interested in excellent articles and wonderful photography of current work can do no better than to look at the Canadian Architect magazine or Perspectives, both periodicals produced for and by architects. Construction Canada provides in-depth information on both architecture and construction methods and Arabella provides a cultural/historical perspective on Canadian architecture past and present. For design trends with spectacular photography aimed at the general public, both Canadian Architecture and Design and Canadian House and Home are good choices. Finally, for really terrific articles on a wide variety of subjects from 'green design' and wind turbines to designing a porch, Cottage Life has excellent writers and a fresh perspective.

Dave LeBlanc hosts The Architourist on CFRB and writes excellent articles for the Globe and Mail. The National Post and Toronto Star also have worthy articles and stories. Most local newspapers have a section on homes, and there are often good stories there as well.

Click Hotpoints for descriptions of terms in both text and images.

For more examples of cutting edge architecture see http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/Classlate20th.htm

Museum of Civilization
Douglas Cardinal

It is said that 70 percent of the people currently living in Toronto were not born there. At least half of the architects with practices in Ontario were not born in Ontario. Some of these architects are internationally famous. An example is Douglas Cardinal, born in Alberta but with offices in Ottawa.

Cardinal's 'ribbons of stone' can be found around the world. One of the best examples, however, is found in Hull Quebec. The Museum of Civilization, built in 1989, was designed in his Ottawa Offices. The forms intertwine, undulate, and are organic in the real sense of the word.


Douglas Cardinal

Ghery - Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

Frank Gehry, on the other hand, was born in Toronto Ontario but like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, William Shatner, and many others he has done most of his work elsewhere. The Bilbao Guggenheim is, perhaps, his most famous building.

The AGO is one recent building constructed in Canada.

Frank Gehry

Residential Design in the 21st Century

At the turn of the millennia, much of the suburban and urban architecture in Ontario was eclectic in nature. The bigger the better. Designers tried to please their clients by creating impressive quasi-historic facades compiled with an astonishing variety of unrelated historic elements, all held together by large quantities of beige paint. Everyone knew the energy grid was close to collapse, but everyone thought it was someone else's problem. Opulence, prestige, and the visual display of wealth were the defining factors.

With the beginning of the collapse of the economy in 2009, more and more designers are heading towards sustainable design, trying to build homes that are comfortable as well as practical. 21st century architects are embracing the Modernist materials, concrete, glass and metal. Historicising detail is kept to a minimum. Respect for the correct placement of the property to take advantage of sunlight and prevailing winds is paramount.

An article comparing the Scime/Curran Residence and Integral House is found in Arabella Spring 2009 issue.

Scime - Curran Residence

Architect Bill Curran and his wife Maryanne Scime wanted a small house with minimal maintenance. Hamilton's north end offered "tear-down" properties at a remarkably good price. The harbor area with the yacht clubs, nature walks and roller-blading paths was the obvious choice for a brilliant location. They chose an innocuous looking cottage and started to dismember it only to find that the structure, minus the 1970s veneer and bad addition, was rather pleasing. Restoration with artistic license took the lead.

Scime - Curran Residence

Front Facade

Scime - Curran Residence

By reinforcing the lintel over the front door, Curran was able to replace the '70s vinyl door assembly with a large pivoting door complete with transom overhead for natural light. The pivot door is a favorite with the engineering set and was a huge success in medieval manors for hiding secret passageways. The Freemasons made spectacular use of them while plotting the French Revolution and other anti-aristocracy intrigues. The revolving stone door at the Initiation Well, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra forms a solid, impenetrable mass of rock when closed. Here, the revolving door is used to offer a maximum amount of light to enter with the guest.

The interior of the cottage is open concept, the walls having been removed. The main horizontal support allowing for the open space is provided by an exposed steel beam that spans the width of the building, totally befitting a house in the Steel City.

Scime - Curran Residence

Revolving Door

Scime - Curran Residence

Perpendicular to this, the kitchen island provides an attractive work space, a useful wine rack and a visual device which draws your eye along the main axis of the house towards the bathroom and master bedroom.

From the front foyer, the visitor advances towards the main living area centred around the fireplace. Beginning with Corbusier, the cherished materials for most modernist architects are steel, concrete and glass. The rough concrete of earlier years was replaced in the late 20th Century with polished concrete, usually poured in place.

Scime - Curran Residence


Scime - Curran Residence

With a sleek surface and careful design, the solid chunks of concrete contrast with balanced voids to provide storage for wood as well as allowing the hearth to almost float above the floor. A glass fronted energy efficient fire and alternating light and dark wood provide the finishing touches.

Though ultra-modern in appearance, this layout follows a time-honored plan for single family housing. In the late 14th Century, one room wattle and daub shanties were replaced by the cutting-edge two-room cottages that had a wide front door opening onto a hall with a hearth. The hall served as dining room, food prep area, living room, lounge and business centre. The huge innovation here was the separate chamber or bower in the back where the master and his wife could sleep.

Scime - Curran Residence


Scime - Curran Residence

Following this tradition, the Curran master bedroom is at the back of the hall. A modern innovation is the placement of a horizontal slash of window above the headboard that opens on to a dense thicket of cedar bows, uniting the bedroom with the outdoors.

Thankfully pillows on the bed have replaced the log which would have served the same purpose in the Middle Ages.


Scime - Curran Residence


Scime - Curran Residence

The light well in the main hall follows a similar historical precedent. This device is found frequently in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa, anywhere that summer heat would make interior space uncomfortable. The light well provides interior light all year while the abat-jour is perfectly placed to allow the wind to cool the house in summer. An abat-jour, is a window or skylight set in a non-strictly-vertical light well. Like the breezes, the colours on the inside of this well ricochet around the room bringing a lovely, warm radiance.

Scime - Curran Residence


Scime - Curran Residence

Sheet glass was developed as early as 1838, but the full potential of it was not realized until the mid-20th Century when heating and air-conditioning made it possible to experience a full open vista any time of year, unencumbered by walls, columns or even window ledges.

Sheet glass here is used to great effect for opening the living area onto the courtyard. The windows are protected from direct sunlight, keeping the room cool in summer, by having them on the north and east walls.

Scime - Curran Residence


Scime - Curran Residence

Keeping the courtyard cool in summer is a reflecting pool, another device that was used to help regulate heat and air movement for centuries before the current dependence upon mechanical methods. Both light wells and the reflecting pools are being revisited by 21st Century architects as two of the most picturesque means of reducing the carbon footprint.

Curran is way out in front.

Scime - Curran Residence

Curran - Reflecting Pool

Integral House

Integral House is a large residence built as a concert hall with living quarters. It was commissioned by James Stewart, a former professor of Mathematics at McMaster University who has cornered the market on calculus textbooks. His real passion, however, is music. Following an age old tradition, this house attempts to meld the audio with the visual experience.

When Stewart commissioned the house, his three requirements were loads of curves, loads of glass, and a performance area that could hold 200 or more people.

Integral House

Shim-Sutcliffe - Integral House Exterior

Shim Sutcliffe

The walls of Integral House are created with plate glass held together by ribs of wood, like columns, but not circular. The cross-section of the columns is a spline curve, used for air or water flow in plane and boat design. Where the splines of a keel direct the water to flow more quickly and propel the boat forward, the splines on these windows direct the light into an ever changing pattern on the ceiling and floor.

The floors are marble from the Loire valley in France. There is an intricate system of in-floor heating that keeps the open-concept building at a constant, comfortable temperature.

Here the evening light has changed the tone of the wood creating a more intimate chamber in which to play duets.

Integral House

Duet room - Integral House

Viewing Balcony

The term piano nobile, an indispensable area in every concert hall in the country, providing the revenue from the liquor sales, comes from the Italian Renaissance palazzi where the main room on the first floor was used for guests to assemble and enjoy performing artists. The chateaux of the Loire Valley are a series of living chambers surrounding large galleries where art, tapestries and string quartets could be found. English Manor house design is the same. Shakespeare's sonnets were commissioned by the owners of Wilton House to be read aloud in their drawing room. The English Country House was the first performing space for many a fine composition, most composers being supported by private patrons not arts council grants.

Here Stewart has provided the world with a gorgeous performance space, seemingly in the woods, but in fact not far from Toronto's down town area.

Integral House

Performance area and viewing balcony - Integral House

Living Quarters

The bedroom chambers sit atop the wooden and concrete structure in ice glass brilliance like a glacier. The access to these chambers is up a frosted glass stairway lined with a series of hand-blown glass scales suspended on brass lines. This is craftsmanship at its finest. The spirit of Antonio Gaudi has climbed this stair.

Like any trend-setting piece of architecture, the finishes on Integral House are innovative and flawless. The handrails throughout the house are brass with a leather finish.

Integral House

Stairwell - Integral House

Stairs to performance Area

Steel mesh provides safety and satisfies the building code requirements while adding glitter to the staircases leading from the balconies to the main performance area.. The poured concrete walls are polished but not otherwise finished and as yet unadorned.


Integral House

Stairway - Integral House

Living Quarters

There are countless levels along which you can discuss the theory and relevance of both music and architecture, but if you don't feel the music or are not moved by the building, it is simply a failure and no amount of discussion can make it a success.

Integral House was not built to impress the neighbors. It was designed as a place where like-minded people could assemble and then be magically transported by music to other worlds and parallel universes across the light of the moon to Puck, the Queen of the Night and a host of characters invented to both arouse and soothe the human spirit.

The Shim-Sutcliffe design, commissioned by James Stewart, is a glittering example of an age old tradition made manifest in 21st century Toronto. The most ground-breaking engineering is mixed with an artistic use of sumptuous materials to fulfill the age old desire to create a temporary refuge from the cares and worries of the world.

Integral House

Indoor pool - Integral House - Full article in Arabella

Civic Design in the 21st Century

As with residential architecture, the main thrust of civic architecture in the 21st century is sustainable design. Many architects are continuing the late 20th century penchant for unrelated forms crashing into one another, with varying degrees of success. Gehry's addition to the AGO is one of the most successful.

Colleges and Universities have changed their entry requirements and an unprecedented amount of people are signing up for post-secondary education. The new buildings reflect the attitude that glass and steel provide the best learning environment, provided there is a food court on the first floor.

An article comparing the Scime/Curran Residence and Integral House is found in Arabella Spring 2009 issue.

Frank Gehry Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO has had as many face lifts as Joan Rivers. The first exhibitions were held in a Georgian style building, the Grange, an 1817 property willed to the city in 1910. The original building is still found on the south facade of the AGO.

By 1919, new galleries were built in the then-current Beaux-Arts style by Pearson and Darling. Various new wings and galleries were added, bit by bit, generally in the style of the time. The last gallery was the Post-Modernist wing finished in 1992 by Barton Myers and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB).


Ghery AGO

Front Facade

Frank Gehry AGO

Critics of Post-Modern designs often said that the appeal of these buildings would be short lived. This proved to be the case for the AGO. In 2004, Toronto born Frank Gehry was coaxed back to Canada to work on a revitalization project called Transformation AGO which virtually eliminated the Postmodern entrance.

Gehry's signature material is titanium, as can be seen in the Bilbao in Spain, the Pritzker Concert hall in Chicago, the Disney Concert Hall, and a variety of other buildings.

The blue Titanium provides a wonderful complement to the white and gray of winter, but is even more magnificent contrasting with the orange and gold of the fall leaves on the trees in the Grange Park.

The main design feature of the AGO is the magnificent staircase that winds in and around, and outside the main building. From the outside, the staircase looks as if it is oozing out of a tear in the metal, pushed out, like so much tooth paste. From the inside, the visitors have a spectacular view of the surrounding park and downtown core buildings.

Ghery AGO

Inside the staircase looking out.

Frank Gehry AGO

On the inside, the curving shape is similar, but the material is a sensuous golden wood. Escaping from the roof and flowing into the round-headed arches of the Renaissance style gallery, the staircase provides a visual focus as well as an interesting ascent from one floor to the next.

The mastery of this design is in the way it weaves in and out of the existing building, uniting the once disparate galleries into a whole. Out of one gallery, into the next, opening up views in each direction, but keeping a flow. This flow is found in ramps and passageways from the main entrance right through the building.

Ghery AGO

Staircase flowing like a ribbon of toothpaste into the Classical gallery

Frank Gehry AGO

Visitors are lead through the gallery in twists and curves, Walking through spaces that, ten years ago, would have been inaccessable.

Here the stairway leading up goes through the top of a Renaissance arch.

Ghery AGO

Staircase up.

Frank Gehry AGO

The staircase provides an opportunity for the visitor to move around the gallery and get acquainted with the different floors. But the actual viewing space part of the addition, it is an art gallery after all, is the large Galleria Italia on the Dundas Street facade.

Sitting in the galleria you get the feeling you are in a very large ship. The ribs supporting the glass roof are curved like a ship's bow, The room is certainly organic, few straight lines, everything opening up to the north - the constant light preferred by painters.

Ghery AGO

Galleria Italia

OCAD 2004 - to be continued

This brilliant new addition, instead of adding to the existing building, simply has it floating above it. The Sharp Centre for Design, by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop, of Alsop Architects, in a joint venture with Toronto-based Robbie/Young + Wright Architects Inc, was completed in September 2004.



Alsop - OCAD





Frank Gehry

Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building 2006

Moffat Kinoshita Architects in co-operation with Foster and partners.

Part of the University of Toronto, the Faculty of Pharmacy on College Street provides state-of-the-art facilities for more than 1000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. The facility boasts teaching laboratories, a new student services centre, faculty and support staff offices, and a virtual doubling of the pharmacy student body. It is the largest pharmacy faculty in Canada.


Dan Pharmacy

Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building

Two classroom pods float above the main lobby. The tops are open meeting rooms.

Dan Pharmacy

Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building

The classrooms themselves are in a focused environment that provides no distractions.

Dan Pharmacy

To be continued

Just a few blocks away is a camera flash posing as a residence.




Twenty-First Century Extra Reading and films


Canadian magazines with articles on modern architecture and design include but are not limited to:



Canadian Architect

Canadian Architecture and Design

Canadian House and Home

Construction Canada

Cottage Life


SAB Magazine Sustainable Architecture

The most popular magazine coming out of the US is




Fifty bucks says that brad Pitt will demand a scene in the new AGO in his next Urban Movie. Pitt is the narrator for the excellent series “e2: the economies of being environmentally conscious” and has always shown an interest in architecture.



Agraffe Transom reveal Quoins Shutter railing Chimney Keystone Transom Balcony Pediment Sash Shutter Veranda Chimney Transom Shutter Sash Arch Transom Sash Windows Voussoirs Band Flat Arch Door Surround Shutters Chimney Stairs Sash Window Shutters Veranda Sash Quoins Roof sash Transom Shutters Cornice