Time to Go

TEXT Melana Janzen
PHOTO Moriyama & Teshima

I arrived late to the farewell party. Coming through the forged iron gate of the garden wall at 32 Davenport Road, it was too dark to notice the missing yew tree (already transplanted to a new home), but the wandering wisteria vine was a strong tangled silhouette, twisting around, up, and over the trellis and parapet walls–its deep roots likely to be one of the last grips held as the plot of land is cleared and excavated for a new sky-bound development. The building itself–the party honouree–had already been emancipated of 45 years’ worth of drawings, material samples, proposals, magazines, and financial records. Inside its empty shell was a palpable sense that this space and its layered history would soon be gone. The entry sequence began with a Zen garden-like walled forecourt, followed by a crafted and weighty solid wood door, and then, finally, a stone slab spanning an interior fishpond. Once inside, visiting clients and employees alike were brought into the cedar-clad interiors of a unique piece of living history coupled with the Modernist sensibilities of a practice enmeshed with the Japanese cultural heritage of its founders. The space has developed mythic significance, as perhaps only a handful of other design offices have–a place where architecture has been shaping the Canadian context for almost 50 years. In 1966, Raymond Moriyama transformed a former automotive garage into a dynamic architectural practice that gave birth to many of our country’s seminal buildings and planning projects: the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the Meewasin Valley Master Plan in Saskatoon, and the Wadi Hanifah Restoration Project in Saudi Arabia.

The spaces of this unique building embodied a spirit and character that was imbued in the practice from its inception. In the February 1967 issue of Canadian Architect, Moriyama describes his office as “a workshop for the mind, a tool built first to serve the staff, and second to help give the client a rounded view of the firm and its basic attitude.” It is true to say that many architects have sought work at Moriyama & Teshima because of the office’s unique environment. Passing through the front reception area and moving toward the back, the building becomes a split-level stacked studio space. A double-height space in the centre provides natural daylight and a visual connection between the various levels.

As I left the farewell party, Moriyama was having his last cigar on the terrace outside the loft. This small space, tucked above and to the side of the larger spaces of the building and accessible via a tiny winding stair, is of legend–steeped with years of discussion and debate. With that last puff, the towers encroaching upon the firm’s vacated offices on 32 Davenport Road will no longer cast it in shadow. Perhaps in moving on from their legendary building, Moriyama & Teshima demonstrate the ability of the profession to understand and respond to context–a poignant recognition that the time for a storied space in which some of our key urban environments have been conceived, is past. CA

Melana Janzen, formerly an employee of Moriyama & Teshima, is now a partner at MJ | architecture in Toronto.