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Twenty + Change: Uoai, Toronto, Ontario

Enjoying the challenge of operating on “uncomfortable grounds” has resulted in a body of work consisting of public art installations, private residences, a growing institutional and commercial portfolio, and even some small industrial design projects.

The founding principals of Uoai (pronounced “wai” / “y” / “why”), Stanislav Jurković and Vis Sankrithi, met while teaching architecture design studio at Ryerson University. For five years, while running solo practices, they were frequent collaborators, so by 2019, it felt natural to formally come together as a duo.

A palette of elemental materials and bright colours is used to organize café, retail, and repair zones at Fix Coffee and Bikes in Toronto. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Uoai is founded on a desire for approaching design without any preconceived notions attached to typology or program. Even the firm’s name—which doesn’t have a particular linguistic reference—points towards this goal.

To date, Jurković and Sankrithi have been able to run Toronto-based Uoai as a non-specialized studio. “By shifting scales, programs and strategies, the intent is to open up new opportunities and ply them forward. [It is] also to keep us interested and thinking in broader ways with each successive project,” says Jurković. Enjoying the challenge of operating on “uncomfortable grounds” has resulted in a body of work consisting of public art installations, private residences, a growing institutional and commercial portfolio, and even some small industrial design projects.

Set within an 1860s coach house, the House Studio strategically uses void spaces to introduce light to the ground floor studio. The project was completed in collaboration with Piccaluga Design Inc. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Uoai’s open-ended approach to design is also informed by the pair’s continued connection to academia. They believe teaching undergraduate students is one of the ways they’re able to “keep our energy alive,” says Jurković, continually “questioning our judgments and criticizing our normal assumptions.”

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

Jurković and Sankrithi’s interest in questioning spatial conventions is perhaps most evident in their public art projects, where they can test out ideas more freely. In their installation The Blue Room, the duo responds to Toronto’s “infinite grid and the inability to escape the street” in its urban fabric, says Jurković. Light projections, street furniture, and areas denoted by blue create a “room” within the street realm that criticizes “the lack of interiority in public space.”

House Withrow’s details include a shower daringly overlooking the stairwell, and a window well inset in the kitchen counter. Photo by Scott Norsworthy
House Withrow’s details include a shower daringly overlooking the stairwell, and a window well inset in the kitchen counter. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Such ideas also inform the firm’s architectural designs. In their private residences, Uoai’s exploration of spatial contradictions frequently translates into the blurring of public and private distinctions. This is perhaps most evident in House Withrow, where a glass-enclosed shower is on prominent display above the main stair.

Archival photographs documenting the 1958 City Hall design competition were used to create an integrated artwork ringing the Nathan Phillip’s Square Bicycle Station. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

At the Nathan Phillips Square Bicycle Station, underneath Toronto City Hall, Uoai deftly layers spaces. The bicycle parking area is ringed by a series of glass and printed panels that showcase the 513 competition entries for the design of Toronto City Hall in 1958. This archival material contributes a historical and global reading of the site, literally placed at its foundations—a space that could have easily been left as a nondescript garage. “By superimposing a highly curated display of imagery onto infrastructural spaces, we explored the potential of setting the everyday utilitarian experience against the backdrop of a pivotal historic moment,” says Sankrithi.

Jurković and Sankrithi are currently collaborating with PMA Landscape Architects on The Dance, a public artwork in celebration of LGBTQ2S+ history at George Hislop Park in Toronto, and hope to extend their examination and questioning of spatial conditions to larger-scale institutional projects as they grow in their practice.

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

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