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Robert Street Residences by Taylor Smyth Architects

Two contemporary houses, Robert Street Residence I (right), Robert Street Residence II (left).

Size: Residence I: 3,000 sq. ft.; Residence II: 3,500 sq. ft.

Location: Toronto, Canada

Completion: Residence I: 2011; Residence II: 2021

Project Team: Michael Taylor, Partner-in-Charge; Marco Bonatti, Project Architect

Press Distribution: v2com

About Taylor Smyth Architects

Taylor Smyth Architects is a full-service Canadian practice dedicated to the creation of enduring buildings of exceptional quality. Since its inception in 2000, Taylor Smyth Architects has developed an international reputation for creating elegant architecture and interiors within Canada and abroad.

Each project is cultivated from the spirit of its location, the unique tastes and aspirations of its clients, and a focus on authentic material expression.

The firm develops trusting, long-term relationships with its clients, suppliers, contractors, and colleagues by listening carefully, providing unparalleled service, and through their exceptional attention to detail.

They combine their project experience and technical rigor with a profound interest in the way people live, work, and play to create innovative buildings that both nurture and delight.

They are inspired by fundamental criteria to which they believe all people respond: light, texture, and color, natural materials and proportions, a sense of openness and sheltered enclosure, access to views, and a connection to the outdoors.

Combining these sensitivities with quality materials and fine craftsmanship, they aspire to create refined private residences, high-quality public buildings, and exceptional redevelopment projects.

The award-winning firm has expertise in a broad range of project types, including residential and interior design, educational, recreational, and workplace facilities, retail environments, and master planning. Their work has received wide recognition through numerous local, national, and international publications and awards.

Two adjacent contemporary houses in a Victorian Toronto neighborhood, designed by the same architect and for the same client, subtly respond to the local vernacular and to each other, while expressing their own unique characters.

Designed and constructed over a span of 10 years, the first house was completed in 2011, and the second house in 2021. The 3,000 square foot residences are located on a unique street in the heart of downtown Toronto, which is a heritage district with mostly historically-designated houses.

Here, approval to build is overseen by Heritage Preservation Services, which generally mandates a traditional style. However, the existing houses on both lots were 1960’s bungalows with no architectural merit.

Both the client and architectural partner, Michael Taylor, felt that trying to build a new house to replicate the style of the old houses on the street would not be successful, nor was it appropriate to attempt.

Instead, he and his design team set out to find ways to reference the surrounding Victorian vernacular through scale, proportion, and color.

A distinctive feature of many of the old houses on the block was a vertical gable and front porch. This inspired the configuration of the front façade of the first house with a projecting two-story bay window that picks up on the proportion of these gables and the inclusion of a front porch.

However, instead of treating these as two distinct elements, the porch and the bay window are unified into one composition that folds up from the porch overhang to become the surrounding frame of the bay window.

The second house also has a porch that continues the sequence of porches of the adjacent cottage-style Victorian houses. The tall second-floor windows are each surrounded by a projecting metal frame, and set into a red brick façade. Randomly sized, they evoke the dormer windows of the neighboring houses in contemporary composition.

One of the challenges was to hide the garage doors since there are no other garage doors facing the street. The solution for both houses was to clad the surfaces of the ground floor façade—the garage door, walls, front door, and the soffit of the porch—with the same material.

The team sourced a panel product called Trespa, a high-pressure compact laminate panel based on thermosetting resins, homogeneously reinforced with wood-based fibers with a printed surface layer that looks like oak and is virtually indistinguishable from real wood, except that it is maintenance-free.

The client acted as the general contractor for both houses, as well as contributed to the interior design. Her intention was to occupy the first house and then sell it once the second house was complete and ready for her to move into.

Lessons learned from the design and construction of the first house were applied to the second house, including design features to improve energy efficiency. The ground floor features in-floor radiant heating, which provides significant energy savings during the winter months.

Flat roofs were built with continuous insulation on top of the deck, rather than with insulation in-between joists, enabling a superior level of insulation and eliminating thermal bridging. The front driveway features a minimal footprint (2 parallel strips), built with permeable pavers to maximize natural water absorption.

Both houses are organized around a central skylit atrium with abundant natural light and have custom canopies above the terraces, which maximize passive heat gains in the winter, while also providing shade in the summer.