Twenty + Change: 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

Since opening Phaedrus Studio in 2015, David Grant-Rubash and Tyler Malone have struck a balance that takes many firms years—if not decades—to achieve: creating architecture that is both functional and artistic. Embedded in their design process is a respect for both craft and technology. This allows them to tackle the particular challenges and constraints of each project, without compromising their distinct design vision.

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

“A personal motivation was to return to an intimate scale of work,” says Grant-Rubash, who worked as a design lead and associate at a large multi-disciplinary firm for over a decade. “There was an early desire for more focused experimentation with architecture as a medium for art.”

“Our work quickly evolved into a highly informed focus on the experiential,” says Malone, who adds that they create spaces that “intimately link expression and function.” This plays out at every scale of a project. Says Grant-Rubash: “No gesture or detail is untouched—even if only digitally—or without consideration, intent and purpose.”

Hi-Lo Hybrid suggests a high-efficiency modular development prototype for Toronto’s main streets. Rendering by Phaedrus Studio

With offices in Toronto and New York, Phaedrus has a portfolio that spans from industrial and furniture design to larger commercial projects. Its founders relish projects with complex technical requirements and performance expectations. For a narrow main-street lot in Toronto, the designers proposed a mixed-use commercial and residential building that combines the efficiency of a high-rise building with the pedestrian orientation of a low-rise structure. The rationalized plan and tight building envelope are geared towards potential prefabrication of the building as a series of stackable modules.

Stainless steel sculptural elements integrate front- and back-of-house functions at Thor Espresso. Photo by Ryan Fung

For Thor Espresso coffee bar, aesthetics and technology are expressed in a set of islands and partitions that elevate the simple act of buying and drinking coffee into an immersive user experience. The functional elements of the café are accommodated in a daring stainless steel sculpture, crafted to emphasize existing structural bays and fully integrate lighting, mechanical equipment, and back-of-house functions. The team makes a bold statement in a relatively small space by “embracing complexity with a refined and hyper-organized but streamlined functionality,” says Malone. “[The design] directs you while playing with the senses.”

Tesseract House’s unconventional massing hints at an interior that experiments with spatial expansion and compression. Photo by Ryan Fung

Phaedrus’s ambitions might be attributable to its international perspective and cross-disciplinary experience: Grant-Rubash studied industrial design and architecture in Denmark and the U.S., Malone founded a freelance design and visualization company as an undergrad, and senior team member Bill Ma focuses on building science and sustainable design. But that also helps it to fit perfectly into the larger Canadian architectural context, which Ma believes has been “redefined by an expanding international design presence […] a growth that is shifting the status quo of holistic architecture.”

With Canadian practices participating on the global stage, Ma says that “as communicators and space makers, we see a primary responsibility for outreach—to instil and transition Canadian virtues from our architectural community outwards amongst a growing populace that is inform­ed, engaged and passionate about their design conceptions.”

This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent