The camera looks at—and out of—buildings, but seldom really inhabits them. It's an obvious problem; how do you express the three-dimensional quality of space on a two-dimensional screen? I pose that question to Director Joseph Clement, whose new film, Integral Man, proves one of the rare exceptions to the rule. Screening at the Hot Docs Cinema from July 7th, the film is a window into the life of mathematician James Stewart, whose final years were lived in Rosedale's Integral House, an 18,000 ft² contemporary masterpiece designed by Toronto's Shim-Sutcliffe Architects

"Light is in some ways almost the subject of the film," Clement explains, describing the attention to detail—facilitated by the use of light-sensitive 35 mm film—that defines Integral Man's aesthetic. Trained as a landscape architect, Clement's aesthetic intelligence is evident in each frame. The camera takes in the view slowly, panning across the famous curves to capture the interplay of light and shade across the white oak fins that frame the unobstructed interiors. 

Integral House from street level, image via GAT Integral House from street level, image via GAT

The man behind the house is James Stewart, a mathematician, concert violinist, and professor, best known for publishing a near-ubiquitous series of calculus textbooks. The revenue from the books—which reportedly saw Stewart become the most-published mathematician since Euclid—made the $32 million dollar house possible.  

Stewart sought to build a house that would nourish his love of both music and mathematics, outlining the specification that the property should comfortably host a concert of 150 seated attendees—and that it should have curves. "Jim spent three years traveling the world in search of an architect," says Clement, with world-famous names like Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas showing interest in the project. But it was Toronto's Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe that impressed most. 

Understated from street level, the five-storey house unfolds in a curtain of curved glass into the Rosedale ravine. "Jim planned to bring in sound engineers after the house was finished to work on the acoustics for the performance space," Clement tells me, "but they found that Shim-Sutcliffe's space was already near-perfect." The curves, as it turns out, make the concert space a near-replica of a violin's interior, Clement adds, explaining how Shim-Sutcliffe's aesthetic is carried through to the smallest details.

The nearly 100 white oak fins that grace the walls are each carefully angled to temper the light, with the spacing varied in response to the curvature of the glass. Free of visible power outlets—"Jim hated them"—throughout the living spaces, the wood of the fins carries through all the way to the kitchen cabinets as a design element, making for a unified aesthetic. All the while, the links between music, math, and architecture, are lucidly explained by Stewart, who speaks to the camera with the quietly compelling charm of a beloved old professor.

Then comes the cancer diagnosis, and a film about architecture, music, and mathematics, poignantly stumbles into elegy. Stewart's voice stays with us as his body declines, handling the news with uncommon grace in the telling, as Clement does in the showing. It all culminates in what Stewart calls a "living wake," where the impresario joins his concert-going guests to revel in the refined power of Measha Bruegergossman's soprano.    

By then, he is close to the end. But standing in his house, surrounded by people, surrounded by that reverberating voice, and surrounded by the mathematical and musical beauty of the space, you get the sense that he felt nothing but alive. 


Following an acclaimed run at Toronto's Hot Docs Film Festival, Integral Man will be screened at Bloor Street's Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. The film's run begins on Friday July 7th at 6:15 PM, and will continue for one week. More information is available via the film's official website, while the Bloor Cinema's full schedule is available here.