Dubbeldam Office

A formerly under-utilized building in Toronto’s Corso Italia neighbourhood is transformed into a mixed-use creative hub, reinvigorating the surrounding community.

With the acquisition of a century-old, three-storey brick building in which to house their own studio, Dubbeldam Architecture + Design embarked on a major renovation, providing an opportunity to not only custom design their own workspace but to develop a creative and entrepreneurial community, integrating complementary businesses under the same roof. It also presented an opportunity to demonstrate one of Dubbeldam’s beliefs about urban renewal – that well-designed architecture can catalyze change and have a positive impact on a community.

Occupying a corner site on St. Clair West at the edge of Corso Italia, the under-utilized building was in decline and disrepair from more than a decade of neglect before the studio began the process of transformation. Dubbeldam’s studio occupies the top floor of the building. To strengthen a community purpose within the building, principal Heather Dubbeldam and her partner Kevin McIntosh established Lokaal, a coworking space on the second floor serving the neighborhood. On the ground floor, a marketing agency is joined by an indie coffee shop to form the critical retail anchor that not only benefits the building’s inhabitants but also the surrounding community. In the raised basement, a residential unit provides a much-needed opportunity for rental accommodation.

The previously tired façade, defined by mismatched bricks and tiny, randomly-located windows, was improved with a unified strategy of enlarged openings and a creative paint job. Suggestive of the creative inhabitants working within, the two primary elevations activate the streetscape with bold and playful graphics; painted drop shadows surrounding the windows create a three-dimensional trompe l’oeil effect to passersby. The bold graphic approach continues throughout the project, from the eye-catching signage at the building’s entrance to the expressive and materially rich wayfinding on the interior. A custom Baltic birch pegboard panel on the first-floor landing not only provides a directory for the businesses in the building, but doubles as a thriving green wall populated with lush plants in fragrant cedar boxes. Lipstick pink and terra cotta paint are applied to the underside of the stair to add colour and energy.

Collaboration is key to the firm’s working methodology, so open workstations occupy most of the office to reinforce collaboration along with a breakout space equipped with a large table for group work and discussion. This space doubles as a library of reference books and material samples on shelving around the perimeter with natural daylight pouring in from the expansive corner window cut out of the north and east façades. The boardroom and light-filled kitchen/lunchroom create additional spaces for discussion while high ceilings and sliding walls in the studio provide ample room for pinup, essential for sharing and exchanging ideas.

A Scandinavian-inspired natural material palette of exposed brick, maple floors, Baltic birch slats and millwork is timeless, textured and warm, contrasting with darker accents such as charcoal-grey doors and furniture. A white Corian waterfall panel greets visitors with an inscribed “hello” at the reception desk, and the wall and ceiling-mounted eco-felt panels provide acoustical benefits. The work of local designers and fabricators was incorporated into the project as much as possible: light fixtures, furniture, workstations and textiles were sourced locally. Thinking more broadly about sustainable approaches and supporting local independent businesses, 80% of materials came from retailers and suppliers in the area; even wood from the lumber yard was obtained a mere five-minute drive away. A number of the consultants and tradespeople–including the structural engineer, millworkers, carpenters and metalworkers–lived or worked within walking distance to the job site.

While the coworking space has become a creative hub and kick-starter of local business, the building has established itself as a landmark and a catalyst for other neighbouring renewal. A prime example of urban revitalization, it has brought a new kind of diversity and vibrancy to the neighbourhood.

  • Architizer A+ Awards
    Popular Choice, Architecture + Renovation
  • Architecture MasterPrize
    Honourable Mention
  • Grands Prix du Design Awards
    Gold Award, Mixed-Use Building
  • International Design Awards
    Silver Award
  • Interior Design Magazine Best of Year Awards
    Winner, Firm’s Own Office

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