Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent

Our selection of 20 new Canadian firms to watch.

Prenez Place! by ADHOC architectes. Photo by Robert Thibodeau

It takes courage to launch any business, but starting an architectural practice is especially daunting. Architecture presents many complexities: from finding clients, to meeting budgets, to negotiating construction—let alone establishing a portfolio with a recognizable design vision. Despite these challenges, young Canadian design practices are producing exceptional work that points to new directions for the profession.

This year, Canadian Architect teamed up with Twenty + Change to identify a group of emerging practices from across the country, selected both for their approach to practice and for the strength of their projects. Over long Zoom calls, we discussed and debated more than 90 portfolios garnered through an open call for submissions. The resulting selection of 20 firms is a snapshot of the range of concerns of young practices across the country—and their range of built work.

We were particularly interested in firms that showed design ambition and an appetite for risk. What work is pushing boundaries and displaying inventiveness in its approach to program, design, and tectonic explorations? How might a young firm set out a solid approach to design, and carry that through multiple projects? How does ambition translate into the successful execution of built work? We asked that firms submit at least one built project, and scrutinized each practice’s approach to detailing, ability to create inspiring spaces, and execution of completed projects.

The challenges of practice vary from place to place. In cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, there’s a crowded marketplace, full of firms of all sizes and specialties. In smaller centers, there may not be an established design culture. Many of the architects we’ve selected have adapted their practice to their location—in some cases, creating a niche for themselves, and in others, becoming active in building design awareness and appreciation in their communities. Architects of all ages should take note: gradually, these firms are shifting the landscape of practice, carving out new roles for architects both in the industry and outside the profession.

Consistently, the firms we selected exhibited a remarkable thoughtfulness towards their work. Today’s young architects are concerned with the social and environmental impacts of their work, and many are pursuing an alternative approach to the practice of architecture. They’re advocating for increased density in urban neighbourhoods, pursuing community-oriented work, and choosing adaptive reuse projects over new builds.

In our selection, we also aimed to embrace diversity: showing different types of work from different parts of Canada, a variety of approaches, and architects of different cultures and backgrounds. We believe that diversity of all kinds enriches the practice of architecture and the design of the built environment—and ultimately, the way people in our society live, learn, work and play together.

This group of 20 practices represents Twenty + Change’s fifth showcase of Canada’s newest and brightest young designers and Canadian Architect’s third round-up of emerging firms. We’re excited and inspired by the diverse and thoughtful work that we have seen, and hope that you are, too.

Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent would not be possible without the financial assistance of our incredible sponsors. We are grateful to the following organizations for their generous support of this initiative:  Patron sponsors—Blackwell, Bulthaup, Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, Dalton, KPMB Architects, SvN and Velux; Supporting sponsors—DIALOG, Diamond Schmitt Architects, DTAH, Dubbeldam Architecture + Design, LRI Fire Protection + Building Code; Benefactor sponsors—BDP Quadrangle, Montgomery Sisam, V2com newswire.


AAmp Studio, Toronto, Ontario

Designed in collaboration with Ravi Handa Architect, Ell House is a vacation residence in Prince Edward County, Ontario, that consists of two volumes linked by a semi-exterior vestibule. Photo by Maxime Brouillet

ADHOC architectes, Montreal, Quebec

Prenez Place! was a 100-metre-long outdoor table in downtown Montreal, designed to encourage outdoor socializing during the pandemic. Photo by Robert Thibodeau

AM_A, Toronto, Ontario

Built for a retired Toronto teacher, Craven Road House creates a private, light-filled haven on a modest footprint. Photo by doublespace photography

Blouin Orzes, Montreal, Quebec

Over a three-year consultation period, Blouin Orzes helped village authorities evolve a planned facility for the presentation of Inuit Games to a professional-calibre performance hall. Savings from the project are being used to restore a neighbouring 150-year-old church into an intimate space for storytelling and throat singing. Photo by Blouin Orzes

Davidson Rafailidis, Fort Erie, Ontario

Big Space, Little Space adaptively reuses a 1920s garage in Buffalo, New York, into an apartment dwelling and workshop. A strategy of minimal interventions maintains the industrial character of the space and a flexibility in the way it is inhabited. Photo Florian Holzherr

dk Architecture, North Vancouver, British Columbia

A soaring canopy provides a warm welcome and a sheltered gathering place for visitors to the Skeetchestn Health Centre, outside Kamloops, B.C. Photo by Martin Knowles

Entremise, Montreal, Quebec

Within a 1,100-square-metre warehouse, the Project Young pilot created working space for dozens of organizations and hosted a two-year-long program of community events. Photo by Entremise

Giaimo, Toronto, Ontario

The restoration of the 1959 Oculus Pavilion was delayed by the pandemic, so Giaimo freshened it with a public art installation entitled Brighter Days Ahead. Photo by doublespace photography

MOTIV Architects, Vancouver, British Columbia

Designed as a working barn for a hobby farm, the Swallowfield Barn also serves as a community gathering space suitable for hosting 
concerts and weddings. Photo by Ema Peter

MRDK, Montreal, Quebec

The wooden canopy is carried through to the restaurant’s Montreal airport location, set alongside a precisely crafted serving counter. Photo by David Dworkind

Nine Yards Studio, Charlottetown, PEI

An amphitheatre and set of demonstration hives help raise awareness of PEI’s bees. Photo by Tamzin Gillis

NÓS, Montreal, Quebec

The 2018 installation Moving Dunes, occupying a street alongside Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, was inspired by the representational technique of anamorphosis. Photo by Raphael Thibodeau

Peter Braithwaite Studio, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Caribou Point Studio is a residence for two artists that includes studios at each end and shared living and dwelling spaces in the middle. Photo by Peter Braithwaite

Phaedrus Studio, Toronto, Ontario

Odin Café + Bar’s origami-folded counters are created with Corian laid over plywood ribs; the faceted detailing extends to the design of tables. Photo by Ryan Fung

Quinzhee, Quebec City, Quebec

B2’s six units have split-level plans that contribute to a sense of intimacy for each room. Photo by Dave Tremblay / 1PX

SOCA, Toronto, Ontario

Completed in collaboration with Andrew Chung, King West Loft transformed an open floor plan to add two bedrooms and an extra washroom. To conserve resources, the design refurbished and reused many existing elements, while strategically adding custom elements such as a bespoke L-shaped bench that doubles as a spatial divider. Photo by Andrew Snow

StudioAC, Toronto, Ontario

In Fairleigh, a triangular kitchen island invites interaction between the cook and guests sitting or standing at the counter. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Studio Shirshekar, Rothesay, New Brunswick

Completed with architect of record Des-Tec, the Petitcodiac Baptist Church pays homage to a demolished 1879 Gothic Revival building on the site. Photo by Julian Parkinson

Suulin, Toronto, Ontario

Office 31 is a gut renovation and addition to an existing warehouse building. Instead of the outdoor access to tenant spaces typical of surrounding buildings, the architects convinced the owner to create a brightly daylit shared atrium space. Photo by Anton Kisselgoff

Uoai, Toronto, Ontario

Located on Toronto’s College Street, The Blue Room uses colour to suggest an interior space. Photo by Kuba Los