Twenty + Change: StudioAC, Toronto, Ontario

“Designing the studio has been our most critical and ongoing project.”

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

While most practices believe in the power of collaboration, the singular vision of founders almost always results in a hierarchical assignment of creative, practical and intellectual power. To combat that tendency, StudioAC has conscientiously done away with a traditional org chart, breaking down barriers to expression and communication. Their full name—Studio for Architecture and Collaboration—commits the six-year-old firm to this philosophy, and to a shared trust between skilled individuals with varied backgrounds and levels of experience.

Plywood built-ins give a contemporary identity to the Annex Hotel that balances with the building’s industrial history. Photo by Jeremie Warshafsky

“Designing the studio has been our most critical and ongoing project,” writes the team. “Our goal was to create a model that moved away from a figurehead and toward a collaborative atmosphere that was defined by the work created by the team, rather than by any individual.”

The influence of multiple voices gives StudioAC’s private and public works humanity and intimacy. The firm’s skilled organization of interior spaces, combination of linearity and openness in residences, and thoughtful solutions to small public spaces results from a deep understanding of what people require from their surroundings. They carefully study the functional and emotional responses architecture has on people as they live and interact within a space, and put their research into action.

Beacs South is a dramatic, space-opening renovation to a semi-detached Victorian home in Toronto. Photo by Andrew Snow

For the owners of the Toronto home Beacs South, StudioAC transformed an existing semi-detached house into a refreshing, light-filled home—with a simplicity that belies the complex precision needed for the project. The central axis of the house was opened, doubling the ceiling height connecting the ground floor and second storey. Light-toned wood, glass and natural light unify the interior, while the home owners move through both private and wide-open rooms with functional and psychological ease.

Edition St. Clair is one of a series of dispensaries created using off-the-shelf industrial grating, deployed in a kit-of-parts approach. Photo by Doublespace Photography

For Edition, a series of commercial spaces for a cannabis retailer, StudioAC created a set of folding forms that act as freestanding displays, service points, and wall art. The “retail sculptures” are made from off-the-shelf industrial grating—a material that the studio initially explored for an exhibition at the Design Exchange, marking their 2019 win of the RBC Canadian Emerging Designer competition. “This product has a unique self-supporting structural ability and an enticing visual quality that screens and filters light, producing moments of opacity/transparency depending on one’s vantage point,” they write. “These qualities, along with the material’s relative affordability, allow for larger design gestures to be executed within a modest budget.”

The studio first experimented with the material in an exhibition of their work at the Design Exchange, and reused the components for a public art installation several months later. Photo by Jeremie Warshafsky

StudioAC’s model of equal responsibility across all architectural projects, is, in large part, behind these successes. “We look at the changing pace of the profession, fostering more inclusion, diversity, and strengthening young and growing voices as a trajectory,” say the co-founders on behalf of the studio. “And we believe the work that will result from that will hopefully be the future of Canadian architecture.”

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