Craven Road House and Studio receive heritage designation

The designation marks an expansion of the City of Toronto's definition of heritage properties, to now include buildings completed as recently as 2010.

The Craven Road House and Studio, designed by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, has received a heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. The house and studio, completed in 1996 and 2005 respectively, are owned by architectural historian Robert G. Hill, FRAIC. The house received a Governor General’s Award in 1997 and the studio was recognized with a Governor General’s Medal in 2010.

Craven Road Studio. Photo by Bob Gundu

The designation marks an expansion of the City of Toronto’s definition of heritage properties, to now include buildings completed as recently as 2010. This is a departure from many municipalities that hold to a strict rule that buildings must be at least 40 years old to be considered “heritage.”

Since completion, the house and studio and their landscaped setting have been extensively published in Canada and internationally. They are widely acclaimed as proof that architectural excellence through meticulous design standards can be achieved on a tight budget and at a compact scale.

Craven Road Studio. Photo by Bob Gundu

The property’s designation was instigated by owner Robert G. Hill, an architect at KPMB, and the creator of the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950. Hill purchased the 25-by-93-foot-lot for $65,000 in 1993. Because of the limitations of the bank loan associated with the vacant lot, he had a limited budget for building a home. He engaged Howard Sutcliffe (his then-colleague at KPMB) and Brigitte Shim (then working with Baird Sampson), to design an infill house on a construction budget of $100,000.

Craven Road House. Photo by Michael Awad

In 2004, Hill’s neighbour to the south expressed an interest in selling the back portion of their land, which faced onto Craven Road. Hill purchased the back half of their lot for $70,000 in order to build a studio. His proposal also included paying for the construction of a new garage for his neighbour at the south end of their property fronting Craven Road.

The key drawings and models of the Craven Road House and the Craven Road Studio are now held in the Collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.

“To my knowledge, in Toronto, my property is the first building completed in the period from 1980 to 2010 to receive a heritage designation,” says owner Robert G. Hill. The designation allows Hill to apply for a Heritage Easement Agreement, which will protect the property’s facade and relationship to Craven Road from alterations, while maintaining the possibility for future interior renovations and for a rear expansion of the structures.

Hill adds that the designation sets a precedent for other significant works of contemporary architecture to be similarly recognized and protected, and for other municipalities in Canada to expand their definition of heritage in line with the City of Toronto.

“Heritage Planning’s Tamara Anson-Cartwright and her team should be commended for their thoughtful assessment of the property,” he adds.

Model constructed by Robert G. Hill of the Craven Road property showing the house with the studio, the landscaped space with the 8 river birches, parking for cars, and neighbours’ garage and the massing and setback of the surrounding buildings and open spaces. (Heritage Planning, 2021 report)

“The Craven Road House reinvents a live-work space for a single person as a blend of the Victorian cottage and the industrial loft types creating a unique, and award-winning, world-renowned complex for its occupant,” reads the Statement of Significance for the property, in part. “Similarly the Craven Road Studio adapts the garage-ancillary outbuilding type as a private gallery and studio. Through a series of strategies which are rooted in the principles of the context and with a reinvention of its associated building typologies, a new urban living condition which maximizes landscaped open-space is created. In its location on an unusual City of Toronto road which is partially a laneway in its origins and character and in the redevelopment of formerly vacant and underused lots, the house and studio represent a precedent for urban infill and densification creating an uncharacteristic landscaped setting..”

A bronze plaque will be erected at the front of the Craven Road House and Studio in April 2022.