Emerging Talent: atelier rzlbd

Reza Aliabadi, Arman Azar, Sebastien Beauregard, Aziza Asat. Photo by Borzu Talaie

Reza Aliabadi sometimes conveys the sizes of his four-person studio’s projects in vehicular terms. Shaft House is barely two London double-decker buses wide (16 feet), for example, while Opposite House is as long as an Airbus A321 commercial jetliner (146 feet).

The vertical Shaft House is organized around a central light well flanked by stairs. Level changes, rather than walls, are used to separate rooms. The shifted section results in a ground floor canopy and 
a south-facing roof terrace. Photo by Borzu Talaie

Shaft House, a 1,400-square-foot spec project for a developer, was one of the first buildings Aliabadi designed after closing a successful studio in Iran, completing a second Masters of Architecture at McGill University in Montreal, and founding atelier rzlbd in Toronto in 2010. In a city where “affordable modernism” was an oxymoron, he demonstrated that
a smart little machine for living could be built for not much more than the going per-square-foot rate for mass-market residential development.

He describes Shaft House as “a fortified castle open to the sky.” Its vertical circulation winds around a central light shaft, with one room on each floor, in an offset arrangement that provides views into adjacent spaces half a storey above and below.

Located to the east of downtown Toronto, Opposite House presents a low, dark brick profile to the street. Facing the water, its south side opens up with floor-to-ceiling curtain wall, framed in bright white stucco. Photo by Borzu Talaie

Opposite House, completed in 2016 on a large lakefront site, is a 6,000-square-foot horizontal counterpart to Shaft House’s compressed verticality. Here, Louis Kahn’s idea of “servant” and “served” spaces inspired a long, simple bar of a house, divided lengthwise by a central corridor. The opaque north side, clad in dark brick, contains bathrooms, closets and other utilitarian “servant” spaces; on the white, light-filled, lake-facing south side are the “served” main living areas.

“For me, architecture is about the intangibles—the contained spaces, not the container,” says Aliabadi, 45. “First, I must secure a good spatial organization. Then come the details.”