Integral House

PROJECT Integral House, Toronto, Ontario
ARCHITECT Shim-Sut cliffe Architects
PHOTOS James Dow, Bob Gundu and Edward Burtynsky

The Integral House is a place for architecture, music and performance located at the edge of a Toronto ravine. From the street, one reads a two-storey building with a grounded wood base sitting on top of a translucent, gently shaped etched-glass skin. The wooden base is composed of solid walls clad in oak that dissolve into oak-clad fins. These serpentine walls, made of vertical glass separated by projecting oak fins, form the gentle perimeter to the house, echoing the undulating contour lines of the river valley and the winding pathways in the native forest of oaks, maples and beeches. The client’s passion for curves provides a starting point for this project. Curvilinear volumes require double integrals and result in complex shapes that permeate this project.

The section of the house parallels the experience of descending the ravine slope as well as ascending into the treetops. The key moment of the journey through the project is a performance space for 150 people to gather, located a full floor below entry level and visually intertwined with the ravine landscape. Upper-level dining and living areas double as balconies during a performance and provide additional seating overlooking the performance space. Each storey of the building has a different and emphatic relationship to the ravine landscape. At the lower floors, the experience of the forest floor is primary. As one ascends through the house, both the palette and spatial experiences lighten until one reaches the airy treetops. 

Sustainability is integrated into the project and is not considered as a mere list of features. Beneath the entry driveway, 23 geothermal pipes provide heating and cooling for the main performance space and the residence. The demands of an assembly space for large events and gatherings necessitate an approach that is simultaneously energy-efficient and extremely quiet. The project’s extensive green roof reduces the heat-island effect and serves as a visual feature that can be viewed from many parts of the building. The vertical wooden fins provide sun-shading on the exterior and contribute to the acoustic quality of the performance space. Materials have been selected for their aesthetic contribution as well as for their enduring qualities based on life-cycle costing calculations. 

Many experiments and explorations can be found throughout the project–fireplaces, staircases and door handles. One such element is a blue glass stair, the result of a collaboration between glass artist Mimi Gellman, Norbert Sattler, Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, and structural engineer David Bowick. As a site-specific commissioned artwork, the stair is composed of hand-blown, laminated blue glass shingles supported by cast bronze clips and stainless steel cables. Laminated translucent glass treads span laser-cut steel treads and allow natural light to filter from a large upper skylight through the staircase to the spaces below. The Integral House’s blue glass stair is the result of an ongoing collaboration between an artist, an architect and an engineer working together to realize an ethereal space for inhabitation.

Jury: A genuine gesamtkunstwerk in which individual parts combine to create a resonant and beautiful whole. Standing out as a new landmark in Canadian domestic architecture, the house is a tour de force of elegance and expressiveness. The intimate relationship with site and landscape, the lyrical play of light and intense focus on how things are made and put together makes this a superlative achievement that extends the pioneering role of the private house in modern architecture. CA

Client James Stewart
Architect Team Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe (principals), Betsy Williamson (project architect), Andrew Hart, Denise Haradem, Mike Goorevich, Kyra Clarkson, Sarah Iwata, Elena Chernyshov, Theo Keladitis And April Wong (model-makers)
Structural Blackwell Bowick Engineering (David Bowick)
Mechanical Toews Engineering (Frank Toews)
Electrical Dynamic Designs and Engineering (Tony Monopoli)
Landscape NAK Design Group (Robert Ng)
Contractor Eisner-Murray Developments Inc. (Steve Eisner and Steve Murray)
Code Hine Reichard Tomlin Inc. (Dave Hine)
Fountain Waterarchitecture Inc. (Dan Euser)
Area 18,000 ft2
Budget Withheld
Completion Fall 2008