Canadian Architect

Feature

Emerging Talent: T B A

July 14, 2016
by Sarah Fletcher

Julia Manaças, Maxime Lefebvre, Jennifer Thorogood, Tom Balaban

Julia Manaças, Maxime Lefebvre, Jennifer Thorogood, Tom Balaban

Thomas Balaban laughs when I tell him he’s still an “emerging architect.” After working for Frank Gehry and Saucier + Perrotte, Balaban established his own small firm in 2009, with a similarly exploratory approach to design. “Finding the space to experiment within the fee structure is difficult,” Balaban acknowledges, though his four-person team is stubbornly uncompromising. They generate and test many options for every project, using a variety of speculative research methods. They hope to eventually get a hold of one of Quebec’s coveted contracts for cultural projects, such as a library or theatre.

Spa Saint Jude, which repurposes a Montreal church as a fitness centre, received a 2012 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence. Photo by T B A

Spa Saint Jude, which repurposes a Montreal church as a fitness centre, received a 2012 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence. Photo by T B A

For the moment, the designers at T B A are focused on residential work, most of it in Montreal. “Even residential projects express a kind of ‘cultural will’ about how the city should be designed,” Balaban says. It’s not all about innovating cool houses and pining after something greater, though: a few years ago, the firm completed an unlikely commercial contract, transforming the former Saint Jude cathedral on bustling Saint-Denis Street into a high-end fitness centre. The new interior intentionally blurs the boundaries between the historic church walls and classy workout rooms with glass partitions and a spatial configuration designed to encourage chance encounters. The sleek design caught the eye of the head of exhibitions at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; now T B A is working on the design of an upcoming exhibition on Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s a step towards the cultural work they’re ultimately after.