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RAIC Emerging Architectural Practice Award: UUfie

A three-dimensional glass block façade gives a futuristic look to the Ports 1961 flagship in Shanghai. Photo by Shengliang Su

UUfie is an interdisciplinary research-based architecture studio founded in 2009 in Tokyo, Japan, by partners Irene Gardpoit, MRAIC and Eiri Ota. In 2013, they moved to Toronto. UUfie’s work spans art, architecture, landscape, furniture and product design. The practice celebrates experimentation, diversity and site specificity, and is often inspired by the natural world. It aims to create experiences of transition in all of its work.

UUfie designed a 25.5-metre-tall screen at the Printemps Haussmann department store in Paris, France. It consists of white-painted aluminium sheets cut to create a floral relief pattern, with dichroic glass filling the openings. Photo by Michel Denancé

For the Printemps Haussmann department store in Paris, the studio designed a three-dimensional veil-like form that fronts a new 10-storey vertical circulation space. Named Verticalité and completed in 2017, it is punctured with 17,200 petal-like openings, giving an effect reminiscent of falling blossoms. The patterns reference the store’s Art Nouveau aesthetic and iconic stained glass domes from 1894. While it weighs 24 tons, glass and mirrored surfaces are strategically deployed to allow the structure to appear to float in front of the circulation space.

Detail of installation at Printemps Haussmann, Paris. Photo by Michel Denancé

The form of an iceberg inspired a new flagship store in Shanghai, China, for the Canadian fashion house Ports 1961. The design of the façade, completed in 2015, is a futuristic composition of glass blocks that seems to undulate, expand and contract. Two types of glass blocks are combined using a new joining system in the block itself to create an elaborately ornamented stepping canopy, including cantilevered elements.

Lake Cottage, a two-storey home in the Kawartha Lakes district of Ontario (2013), uses a Japanese wood preservation technique—charred cedar—and gives the sensation of being in a tree house. The structure includes a seven-metre-high A-frame pitched roof, and a deep cut in the building creates a cantilevered overhang that protects an outdoor terrace. Fourteen openings in the main living space reveal both inhabited spaces, skies and trees.

The two-storey Lake Cottage brings a playful inventiveness to traditional house forms. Photo by Naho Kubato
Exterior of Lake Cottage. Photo by Naho Kubato

UUfie’s projects have involved collaborators from Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan. For example, in 2016, they stayed in Italy for over a month to produce their Echo table with a local metalworker who had fabricated pieces for Italian architect Carlo Scarpa.

The Echo tables are made from a wood composite that blends into metal at the edges. Photo courtesy UUfie

A graduate of the  University of Toronto, Gardpoit trained at the Arata Isozaki Atelier in Tokyo. She is an Ontario-licensed architect. Ota graduated from Musashino Art University in Tokyo and trained under Jun Aoki & Associates in Tokyo. His architecture license is from Japan.

The acrylic Peacock chair has a lace-like appearance inspired by paper-cutting crafts. Photo by Andrew Wilcox

The studio has received numerous awards, including the Architectural Record Design Vanguard Award, a nomination for the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize and Project of the Year from Canadian Interiors magazine. UUfie’s work has appeared in over 100 major publications as well as in galleries, museums and exhibitions.

The Wa-Wa installation added 130 convex mirrors to a quad at the University of Toronto’s downtown campus in 2017. Photo by Nanne Springer

:: Jury ::   David Pontarini (FRAIC), Gilles Saucier (FIRAC), Luc Bouliane (MRAIC), Samuel Oboh (PP/FRAIC), Rayleen Hill (MRAIC)

UUfie is pushing the boundaries beyond Canada’s borders and increasing the global profile of Canadian architecture. Their mix of international inspiration and style creates innovative designs that surprise and delight. UUfie is an example of a new generation of architects which addresses with confidence the international scene, on all scales, including object design. The firm’s innovation in practice is exemplary, and its rigorous pursuit of invention has created a practice that transcends borders and typologies and broadens the definition of Canadian practice.