Ravine Guest House

ARCHITECT Shim-Sutcliffe Architects
LOCATION Toronto, Ontario

This guesthouse is located on the wooded grounds of a private residence abutting a Toronto ravine. The wood-and-glass pavilion sits within a three-acre property, surrounded by a lush landscape of mature red pines and black locust trees. It is conceived of as a glowing lantern in the forest, typologically related to greenhouses and traditional garden outbuildings.

Intended as a quiet retreat, the program for the project has both indoor and outdoor elements. The indoor program includes a bedroom, a sitting room, a bathroom, and a kitchen which can also be used for catering large events. The outdoor program includes a large wooden deck, reflecting pool, covered dining area, and a long concrete countertop for the storage of firewood and garden equipment.

A deliberate ambiguity is created between interior and exterior, as elements are interwoven to create a series of interlocking spaces. A large central indoor-outdoor fireplace reinforces this ambiguity; it has a sliding fireglass window between the two fireboxes permitting a separation between inside and out, while affording views through one to the other.

Facing west, large wood-and-glass doors unfold, allowing the building’s main living and sleeping space to open fully to the outdoors. A view toward the reflecting pool and terraces is framed by the remaining south wall and fireplace. The ipé wood flooring used for the interior extends seamlessly beyond the doors to form the terrace, further extending the modest interior into the landscape, and again blurring the distinction between inside and out.

The structural steel and Douglas fir roof framing is fully exposed and expressed. A hanging structural frame enables the Profilit cast-glass clerestory to be completely continuous overhead. The openness of the pavilion’s walls, the minimalism of the structure’s framing, and the glowing quality of the milky glass above allow the ceiling plane to appear to float. To create shade and shelter for the outdoor dining area, the simple rectangular prism of roof and glass hovers above the hearth and the terrace.

The journey to the Ravine Guesthouse is by foot down a winding gravel path. A slatted wooden bridge forms the threshold to the pavilion, leading across the L-shaped reflecting pool to the generous wood terrace. The pool is planted with water lilies and bullrushes, creating a rich water landscape surrounded by the verdant and distinctive Toronto ravine landscape.

Georges Adamczyk: Ce lieux de retraite, à quelques minutes du centre ville, dans un ravin de Toronto, havre naturel précieusement conservé, est une construction très sophistiquée qui se joue hardiment des lois de la pesanteur et tend à effacer la limite entre l’intérieur et l’extérieur, là oú les beaux arbres et la réflexion d’un bassin d’eau renforce l’engagement contemplatif de ce projet. Les matériaux s’ajustent à un récit architectonique tendu et précis, d’une grande clarté, démontrant que la simplicité est le fruit d’une recherche patiente et sensible de la vérité des choses. C’est en quelque sorte l’exemple parfait d’un manifeste pour la beauté architecturale.

Bernardo Gómez-Pimienta: The Ravine Guest House is an extremely sophisticated volume blending interior and exterior space. The use of a reduced material palette is enhanced by the clarity of the structural solution making the clerestory appear to float above the seemingly continuous space.

Client Dr. Murray Frum and Nancy Lockhart
Architect Team Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe (principals), Min Wang, Mark Graham
Structural Blackwell Bowick Partnership Ltd.
Builder Tony Azevedo
Area 500 ft2
Budget withheld
Completion 2004