Garden Circle House

This two-storey residence for a family of four in a midtown Toronto neighbourhood inhabits a compact lot on a tight cul-de-sac. Garden Circle House responds to its site with an appropriate scale and proportion that fits comfortably within its context- along with acknowledging the clients’ desire to integrate elements of early- to mid-20th-century Prairie Style architecture.

In response to the client brief for a home that was naturally-inspired, sustainable, filled with natural light, and one that would ‘bring nature in’, the design team drew upon biophilic design strategies. Biophilic design incorporates natural materials, natural light, vegetation, views of nature and other experiences of the natural world into the modern built environment. The means by which this is achieved in the house varies from spatial strategies, visual cues, forms and materials used in the design.

On the exterior, brick in buff and grey shades conveys a sense of solidity and permanence while Western red cedar boards and mahogany-framed windows complete the façade composition. Green roofs are integrated into each of the overlapping roof planes on the front and back of the house, while beneath, their soffits are detailed with Brazilian massaranduba. Integral to the front elevation of the house is the pear tree that was retained on site; located in front of the large dining-room window, its foliage casts animated plays of shadows and light, and the heady scent of the pear blossoms in spring and the ripe fruit in autumn is perceptible when the windows are open.

Upon entry into the house, a direct view to the backyard is provided through a tall narrow window on axis. Looking back toward the front entry, a double height space showcases dramatic light from the tall windows and abstracted shadows from the unique light fixtures overhead. Though not divided into specific rooms, partitions and millwork on the ground floor provide spatial definition and privacy in an open plan allowing for connectively between spaces and views throughout.

A focal point of the interior space connecting all three levels of the house is a curved central staircase that seduces with its curvilinear lines, open risers and a solid Honduran mahogany balustrade and handrail. Powerfully sculptural, it is difficult to resist, and invites the hand to run along its contours.

Views are primarily oriented to the rear of the house with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, connecting interior and exterior spaces and capturing morning sun from the east. In the backyard, a robust landscape strategy integrates a hard-wearing Cumaru deck that steps down to a lap. An additional connection to the natural world is established through the multiple green roofs that can be seen from all the bedrooms, offering multi-sensorial enjoyment to the home’s residents.

Complementing the biophilic design strategy for Garden Circle House is the prioritization of sustainability initiatives such as: radiant in-floor heating, efficient high-velocity cooling, thermally superior wall assemblies, operable windows and skylights for natural ventilation and daylighting, LED light fixtures, low flow plumbing fixtures, and durable, hard-wearing and low-VOC materials.

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