RAIC Emerging Architect Award Winner: Anya Moryoussef

"Moryoussef is an immensely talented and determined architect who has demonstrated the success of clear and focused commitments to the pursuit of design excellence and a deep connection with her clients."

The compact Studiolo was designed for a screenwriter with a background in architecture, and focuses on a desk washed with light from above. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Architect Anya Moryoussef is the director and founder of Anya Moryoussef Architect (AM_A), a practice started in 2016. Her professional career includes award-winning work with firms in Canada and abroad. She demonstrates a commitment to design excellence and innovation in the practice of architecture, and serves the profession and the community through teaching, mentorship and speaking engagements.

Moryoussef graduated from the Master of Architecture program at the University of Waterloo with Commendation and Honours, achieving the highest academic standing in her undergraduate degree and receiving the RAIC Student Medal for Outstanding Thesis.

Following graduation, she apprenticed with Sarah Wigglesworth Architects in London, UK. Her work included the designing the jewel-like Bermondsey Bicycle Storage, working on the multiple-award-winning Sandal Magna Primary School, and designing and directing a studio at the Bergen Arkitektskole in Norway.

While working at Sarah Wigglesworth Architects in the UK, Moryoussef was the project designer for the Bermondsey Bicycle Storage—a bicycle shed in South East London made to look like a crown jewel. Photo by Mark Hadden

Returning to Toronto, she joined a small design-forward firm with a focus on residential projects, where she became the firm’s first associate. “My role was to take the vision of a house, as established by the partners, and turn it into a livable, enduring, beautiful place to live,” writes Moryoussef. “I was taught that this takes craft, vision, collaborative relationships with consultants and builders, and a close understanding of the client.” Half of the projects for which she was the project designer or architect were recognized with awards.

As the firm grew in size to 20, Moryoussef found herself in a more managerial role, and left to craft a practice on her own terms. “These terms were: do ambitious work, support my soon-to-be growing family with my income, and make buildings,” she writes. “I did not regard these expectations as grand, but I soon learned how grand they were with the prospects that faced me as a sole practitioner starting from the ground up.”

“The work I found was predominantly domestic. The scopes were limited. The disjunctions between budgets and aspirations were seemingly irreconcilable. But the clients, and their existing homes, were full of promise: they were the assets. On the surface, they were everyday people with modest means who had sought out an architect to uplift their daily lives; looking more deeply, I saw the drama, potential and beauty in their visions of themselves and their lives.”

At the University of Toronto, Moryoussef expanded a main corridor to incorporate a front porch-like waiting area for the Department of Postgraduate Medicine. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Moryoussef’s steadily growing body of completed projects is distinguished by design quality and vision, combined with immense livability. One of her first solo projects, the Studiolo, is a laneway annex for a screenwriter. “I saw the client as he saw himself and, like an actor in a role, I put myself in his shoes and imagined the setting: a place for one, with pathway, entryway and doorway leading into it that are all at the width of a single body,” recalls Moryoussef. The slender entry leads to “a desk whose placement, against a wall washed with light from above, focuses his solitude.”

“The enjoyment I have received from working in the Studiolo is immense,” says the client. “The interplay of light and shadow throughout the year make the space seem alive. It revitalizes my creative spirit every time I enter it and sit down to work. It is an ever-changing environment, with the one constant being an overriding sense of creative possibility.”

For Greenwood Semi I, Moryoussef renovated an Edwardian house for a small family, carefully calibrating the relationship between modern and heritage elements. “We kept the existing thresholds, entirely or partially, of the original five rooms of the ground floor,” writes Moryoussef. “We observed the spaces as discrete, but changed their dimensions and relations to each other though millwork interventions and the placement of lighting. Framed interior views—through the enfilade, peek-throughs, and mirrors—were implemented to create a sense of privacy and intimacy but also togetherness (along with a bit of life as theatre).”

“Many spaces are beautiful, and many spaces are livable, but not many spaces are both,” the clients comment. “As we use our space each day, we continually appreciate the way in which our home enhances and embraces the way that we live. Anya’s intensive attention to all layers of the conceptual, philosophical, aesthetic and practical architecture of our space has made a house our home.”

The Craven Road bungalow is conceived as an air-filled home, where the movement of natural light through the space marks the passage of time. Photo by doublespace photography
Interior of Craven Road Micro House. Photo by doublespace photography

Moryoussef’s Craven Road Micro House, completed for a retired public school teacher, is a one-storey, 17-foot-wide house that is given ample light and spaciousness with a careful arrangement of windows, including a sawtooth roof.

“I conceived of a home filled with light, air, and the passage of time,” writes Moryoussef. “I obsessed over every inch to give Laurel small luxuries like a separate bath and shower and proper entryway to take off her shoes and hang her coat; I sourced salvaged kitchen appliances from a demolition site and simplified the millwork so that she could afford trees. I studied window placements to ensure light came in from all directions, but seldom directly, and that Laurel could look outside, but the outside world could not stare in.”

“It’s a simple idea, constructed with ordinary building materials—but a beautiful idea that’s executed beautifully,” wrote Alex Bozikovic of the house in the Globe and Mail. “Judging from this house, [Anya Moryoussef] can turn something small into something very grand.”

Jury Comments :: Anya Moryoussef’s work and intellectual approach are distinguished by the sensitivity and clarity of the goals she seems to have set for the profession of architecture. Throughout her career, Moryoussef has demonstrated an enduring commitment to design excellence along with the skills to achieve not only well-designed buildings, but to design architecture that addresses the principles of social justice and social equity. 

From simple pavilions to homes and public buildings, her work has shown itself to be highly attuned to her clients’ needs and budgets, while time and again creating designs of a high calibre, precisely detailed, and beautifully executed. Moryoussef is an immensely talented and determined architect who has demonstrated the success of clear and focused commitments to the pursuit of design excellence and a deep connection with her clients. Her designs exhibit incredible skill, restraint, and innate understanding of materials.

She has earned the respect and admiration of her peers through her joy for her work, her design achievements, and her devotion to architectural education. Moryoussef is already giving back to her profession, sharing her knowledge and experience with the next generation.

The jurors for this award were Susan Ruptash (FRAIC), André Perrotte (FIRAC), Drew Adams (MRAIC), Marie-Odile Marceau (FIRAC), and Susan Fitzgerald (FRAIC).