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Twenty + Change: Suulin, Toronto, Ontario

The work of their firm—now eight people and growing—marries formal design rigour, sustainable design, urbanism, architecture and interior design suffused with nature.

Suulin Architects is an emerging practice with an impressive back story. When its future principals met in New York City, Amy Lin was an associate working for Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects) on projects including the Clinton Library; James Chavel was at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects working on the Phoenix Art Museum addition. Chavel wanted to return to his home in Toronto—together with Lin. Both had connections to Brigitte Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe: Chavel had been her teaching assistant at the University of Toronto and Shim had been Lin’s thesis reviewer at Harvard. They eventually served as co-project architects on Shim-Sutcliffe’s Sisters of St. Joseph residence/healthcare centre for the order’s elderly nuns. The project received a 2014 Governor General’s Medal in Architecture, and that same year, Lin and Chavel went out on their own, forming Suulin Architects.

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
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
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

The work of their firm—now eight people and growing—marries formal design rigour, sustainable design, urbanism, architecture and interior design suffused with nature. (The name “Suulin” derives from the Taiwanese word for “forest.”) One of their first projects, Office 31, combined selective demolition, renovation, and new construction to transform a disjointed North York warehouse complex into a cohesive, light-filled, multi-tenanted workplace with views to the property’s mature pine trees.

More recent projects range from House 152—an extensive renovation and addition to a Toronto home that introduces an HVAC-integrated green wall, triple glazing and many other sustainable features—to Maeli Market, a Taiwanese market that respectfully, joyfully evokes the island’s distinctive landscape and culture.

House 152 is an extensive renovation and addition that intertwines new and old to create a vibrant home for a family of five. Photo by Scott Norsworthy
House 152 is an extensive renovation and addition that intertwines new and old to create a vibrant home for a family of five. Photo by Scott Norsworthy
The design for Maeli Market aims to evoke the natural topography and landscapes of Taiwan, as well as the country’s renowned night markets. Photo by Scott Norsworthy
The design for Maeli Market aims to evoke the natural topography and landscapes of Taiwan, as well as the country’s renowned night markets. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

A major ongoing project is a mid-rise live/work rental building (888 Live-Work) at Ossington Avenue and Dupont Street in Toronto. The building will replace a decayed former industrial building occupied by artists since the late 1980s. The project continues to be reshaped and redesigned through an iterative design process responding to City, client, and public feedback. Suulin Architects remains committed to realizing a mixed-use creative hub, with public spaces that will benefit the neighbourhood and provide opportunities for social engagement. “Improving the urban environment is our main goal,” says Lin. Just as they strive to reconnect architecture and nature, “We’re always looking for opportunities, no matter how small, to bridge private and public.”

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

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