Twenty + Change: Giaimo, Toronto, Ontario
“What’s new?” is a default question. But for Toronto’s Giaimo, “What can we do with what already exists?” is a more interesting line of enquiry.
“What’s new?” is a default question. But for Toronto’s Giaimo, “What can we do with what already exists?” is a more interesting line of enquiry. Founded in 2015 by Joey Giaimo, formerly of ERA Architects, the practice specializes in the integration of sustainable, 21st-century design and heritage conservation.
The Oculus Revitalization illustrates how preservation, renewal and collaborative activism intertwine in Giaimo’s work. Architect Alan Crossley’s 1959 washroom facility for a suburban Toronto park reached for the stars. A flying-saucer canopy, open to the sky at its centre, hovers in the foreground. The futuristic canopy is the focal point, with the modest, earthbound volume housing the plumbing curving in around behind it. Over time, this space-age pavilion became derelict. In 2019, Giaimo and Architectural Conservancy Ontario received a Parks People Public Space Incubator grant to revitalize it. When the pandemic delayed the restoration and site improvements, Giaimo instigated the 2020 art installation Brighter Days Ahead, wrapping the canopy in sunny yellow rays and staging performances to highlight its acoustic value. “We’ve been working with this structure for a couple of years now—gathering funding, getting content out there, doing the restoration, continuing to program,” says Joey Giaimo.
A four-person firm in its early days, the Giaimo studio has nearly tripled in size and now occupies space in its largest project to date, which fronts onto Toronto’s version of Times Square. The abutting office towers at 19 and 21 Dundas Square date from 1913 and 1929 respectively, and together comprise the heritage-designated Hermant Building.
Giaimo’s renovation strips away decades of accumulated dropped ceilings, demising walls and finishes to expose the board-formed ceilings and columns of the early cast-in-place concrete architecture. Through research, Giaimo convinced their client that restoring rather than replacing the century-old operable windows would create more desirable tenant space and reduce the renovation’s embodied energy footprint, without undermining operational efficiency.
Giaimo’s approach to everyday older buildings is respectful but far from reverential. South House, the Giaimo family’s own home in Mississauga, partially envelops a pitch-roofed 1920s bungalow in a resolutely contemporary blue box, and on the inside strips the original building down to its wood sheathing. “When there are existing heights and existing rooflines, the dialogue between the original and the additions makes the building so much richer,” says associate Mitchell May.
“There’s always something to be found in existing buildings, and that’s where we start,” adds Giaimo’s other associate, Ria Al-Ameen. “We look for this amazing piece and then find ways to work around it and with it.”
This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent.