Canadian Architect

Feature

Emerging Talent: PARTISANS

July 14, 2017
by Pamela Young

Zahra Sharbati, Justin Smith, Fan Zhang, Nathan Bishop, Ivan Vasyliv, Tim Melnichuk, Adriana Mogosanu, Cathy Truong, Michael Bootsma, Teddy Shropshire, Alex Josephson, Nicola Spunt, Pooya Baktash, Jonathan Friedman. Photo by Jonathan Friedman

“We’ve got a lot of tech today, but not a lot of talk,” says Alex Josephson, co-founder of Toronto’s PARTISANS. The five-year-old studio has created some voluptuously maximal calling cards with the latest tech—most famously Toronto’s always-packed Bar Raval—and is striving to revive the sort of conceptual thinking and critical debate generated in the last century by the likes of Archigram, Cedric Price and John Hejduk. To that end, last year PARTISANS collaborated with architecture critic and historian Hans Ibelings on the book Rise and Sprawl: The Condominiumization of Toronto, which its authors describe as “a call to action to do things differently and design better, bolder buildings.”

Sinuous strips of CNC-cut mahogany line Toronto’s Bar Raval. Photo by Jonathan Friedman

Josephson and co-founder Pooya Baktash, who are both 33, met as architecture students at the University of Waterloo. The two other leads at what is now a 16-person firm are partner Jonathan Friedman, 39, and writer/producer Nicola Spunt, also 39.

The firm is working with GH+A and DIALOG to fit out the commercial spaces of Toronto’s Union Station. Rendering by GH+A

PARTISANS’ work has ranged from the temporary conversion of Toronto’s decommissioned Hearn Generating Station into the 2016 Luminato cultural festival venue, to a few forays into product design—notably with their spectral, rippling Gweilo light sculptures. Works-in-progress include a retail and food court fit out at Toronto’s renewed Union Station, featuring characteristically curvaceous ceiling modules that integrate lighting, speakers, sprinklers and HVAC.

In collaboration with Luminato’s Jorn Weisbrodt and Charcoalblue, PARTISANS revamped the decommissioned Hearn Generating Station to host an arts festival. Photo by Hector Vasquez

Josephson believes that ornament is rooted in—and returning to—functionality. “Everything today is about speed, and that means financing also has to be fast,” he says. To pay for itself, architecture has to find other ways to make itself relevant. “If ornament becomes another avenue in which architecture functions, how is it superfluous?” Josephson asks. “Isn’t it now actually performing?”