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Globe: New Ideas for a Modern Residence (Integral House)



From the Globe Real Estate section, by JBM:

POSTED ON: 13/04/07
New ideas for a modern residence
John Bentley Mays

From Friday's Globe and Mail

For about the past 25 years, advanced theorists of architecture — one thinks especially of Peter Eisenman in this regard — have been urging architects to engage more vigorously the new ideas coming from science, technology and the philosophy of information. What would happen, for example, if designers set aside the Newtonian model of space as a neutral, empty and infinite grid, and began to think of it (in the manner of some contemporary mathematicians) as a rich fabric of events and incidents, folds, cinematic dissolves? Imagining space in this way is not only intellectually provocative. It also suggests a fruitful way forward for architectural design — away from the box and all its variations, to forms more directly responsive to the new nature that science is giving us.

There is no better local example of what I'm talking about than the spacious residential project known as Integral House, now nearing completion on a Toronto ravine. Designed by the small, influential Toronto office of Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, this brilliant scheme was undertaken at the request of James Stewart, a mathematician, musician and author of widely published mathematical textbooks. When finished, Dr. Stewart's house will likely become, not only a building of great beauty and material refinement, but also a case study in the application of new architectural thought to the enduring problem of the modern residence.

The full drama of the project is not immediately evident from the street. In the two-storey composition of its front, an etched-glass attic, glowing like a lantern at night (and containing bedrooms), rests lightly on a broad wooden base. In its modest scale — its striking visual effect is another matter — this façade harmonizes with other luxury homes in its neighbourhood.

Integral House shows its more formally energetic side at the rear, as it boldly steps down the ravine to a swimming pool. Each of the house's five levels is different from the others, registering changes in program and in the building's relation to the sky and the forest on the slope. The entry level, for example, is a high overlook, offering clear views into the house and its alternating rhythms of grid and organic form. A full level down, in an area intended for musical performances, the space majestically expands to double height, up to a clerestory, and outward to frame views of the trees below.

The geometry of the design is dominated by the curve, which is expressed most eloquently in the undulating curtain wall that encloses upper levels of the house. This wall is an ingenious invention that features vertical oak-clad fins canted outward between vertical panes of glass and running in a clear sweep along the façade's curvature.

While this complex façade treatment lends Integral House muscular sculptural presence, formal elegance is only part of its job. Its more important task is to establish ever-changing relationships between the interior and the nature beyond. Standing in one position in the performance space, the visitor finds the wall almost opaque. Step sideways, and views open up. The inward folding of the screen creates small enclosed harbours of nature outside, or, bulging outward, it creates bays that hover in the landscape.

But the impulse behind the fabrication of this unusual perimeter wall — to produce endless events, surprises, small episodes of light and view — drives the whole design of Integral House.

As one moves up and down, alongside and around the chimney, elevator shaft and stairwell that constitute the vertical axis of the house, the experience of the surrounding nature changes accordingly, from tree-top brightness above, to the shadowed loam of the forest floor. Higher up in the house, one is still in the city; below, one is in the ravine. Yet moving around within the building itself, the visitor finds the spatial properties of the architecture continually changing, as scales vary from monumental to intimate, and as one area dissolves into another in the remarkably fluid plan. The result is an architecture of event, more cinematic than static, with stories continually emerging from its sturdy matrix of stone, glass, concrete and wood.

The history of Integral House is well laid out in an interesting exhibition now on view (through Apr. 28) at the Eric Arthur Gallery of the University of Toronto's faculty of architecture, landscape and design, at 230 College St. Writing about the book that accompanies the show — though she could easily be talking about the display — Brigitte Shim says: "By describing and revealing a process that documents the scheme from initial sketches through to working drawings, we hope to demonstrate that design does not happen magically." But the outcome, very rarely — yet surely in the case of Integral House — can be magical indeed.

Photos available here:




From the Globe, by Rochon:

James Stewart's new house befits a man who is both mathematician and musician, writes LISA ROCHON
Headshot of Lisa Rochon


TORONTO -- What would your dream house look like? Think about it. And dream, baby, dream. Float down into the deepest sleep and stay there for a long while. You might begin to approximate the kind of dream that James Stewart had about 10 years ago, of a sumptuous house designed to liberate music and man.

This is a house that matters. Though it is still months from completion, the contribution of the Integral House to architecture here in Canada and places beyond promises to be immense. And so I bring this house to your attention now as a symphony of design, in which everything from the door handles to the windows has been contemplated and freshly cast.

Gimme shelter? Turns out there's more to a house than developers would have us believe. Look around at the carpet of sameness that has metastasized across North America. Radical departures from the norm are painfully rare; innovation and craft are regularly flattened by the steamrollers of convention. With the Integral House, however, we open ourselves to the dream of change.

This house -- designed by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects of Toronto -- is a singular treatise on the joys of the complex curve. Serpentine walls made of vertical glass separated by projecting fins of white oak form the gentle perimeter to the house, echoing the wisp of the creek in the valley below and the paths that wind from the back terrace through a forest of towering oaks, maple and beech. The architecture glorifies its ravine setting, with views of the majestic trees available from Rosedale's Roxborough Street clean through the house.

The client, James Stewart, is a mathematician and musical impresario who has gained a fortune by writing and selling around the world millions of calculus textbooks. In other words, he's done his math and decided that there's a compelling argument in favour of curves in architecture.

Years ago, Stewart took his idea for the house to Frank Gehry, the world's master of roiling form, and Gehry agreed to take on the project. Gehry's fees and the cost of building one of his bucking structures dissuaded Stewart, but he held onto his dream of commissioning an organic work of architecture. "Straight lines are really elementary," says Stewart. "They're boring. Curves are just more interesting."

But how to draw a curve without giving in to pornography of an excessively undulating line? Shim-Sutcliffe, admittedly, had never done much in the way of curves before Stewart's commission. But, one of the guiding lights for the practice has been the great Finnish modernist, Alvar Aalto, as much for his sensitivity to place as for his deft handling of scale, light, materials and, yes, designs that curve.

With confidence and restraint, architect Howard Sutcliffe has created architecture with the flow and energy of the 1936 Alvar Aalto design for the Karhula glassworks competition. Both are freely executed. And, just as the ravine has informed the Shim-Sutcliffe project, Aalto's organic designs were greatly inspired by the contour lines of hills and lakes so common to Finland.

Viljo Revell's design for Toronto's new City Hall had long inspired Stewart -- to be sure, an essay in curved restraint that blows apart the banality of the slab tower. And, as a junior fellow at Massey College, Stewart revelled in the craft and intimate magnificence of one of Canada's most exceptional modern works by Ron Thom. During the 1980s, he visited some of the works of Carlo Scarpa, the Italian architect who worked in visionary ways to revitalize historic buildings through articulated window frames and sculptural landscape interventions. At about that time, Scarpa's influence played importantly over the careers of Shim-Sutcliffe, heightening their interest in juxtaposing tough urban materials such as rusting steel against the lushness of wood.

That Stewart and Shim-Sutcliffe should have ended up together seems obvious -- a marriage meant to be. But it took years of patient searching before Stewart decided finally to hire them. Larry Richards, then dean of University of Toronto's School of Architecture, Landscape and Design, provided advice and guidance as Stewart's professional adviser. A list of 10 architects was established, with the idea of holding a competition among five finalists.

Once Stewart met Sutcliffe and Brigitte Shim, however, he abandoned the idea of the competition and hired them instead. Together with project architect Betsy Williamson, they have worked continuously on the house for 4½ years. The original commission on another Toronto ravine site was for two buildings, with New York architect Steven Holl designing a guest house on the property. But, after considerable study, the site was abandoned for a quieter location in Rosedale, and Shim-Sutcliffe was given full creative licence to create one house, one performance for Stewart.

Too often these days, architects give themselves body and soul to the monumental glass curtain wall. The results are blinding sheets of light and shades drawn against the harsh sun. But here the experience is one of transparency and near solidity -- it all depends on where you're standing in the house and from what angle the syncopated oak fins catch your eye.

From the street, the house presents as an L-shaped intervention that rises a discreet two storeys. The explosion of space occurs inside where the volume expands into five storeys. Stair, fireplace and elevator anchor the monumental space, extending from the lower pool level (where, by the way, 28-foot-wide -- 8.5-metre-wide -- windows can drop down into the floor by way of motorized controls, opening the swimming area entirely to the open air of the ravine) to the upper bedroom area on the fifth floor. The stairwell -- already a stunning volume of vertical space defined by finely poured concrete -- is to be covered on all four walls by a glass artwork cast in gradations of cerebral blue by Nova Scotia glass artist Mimi Gellman.

All door handles within the interior and the exterior have been custom-designed and modelled through computer-generated rapid prototyping, eventually to be cast in bronze. The front-door handle, says Stewart, resembles the letter S for a variety of reasons: "For simple figures like triangles and rectangles, you don't need an integral. You don't need calculus. But, as soon as you have curves, you need calculus and integrals. Volumes require double integrals, so the front-door handle will involve a double integral. The symbol for an integral is exactly the same shape as the sound hole of a violin. Historically, it's an elongated S for the word sum. S also stands for Stewart and Shim and Sutcliffe. There are many connections."

With the Integral House, Stewart establishes himself as a major arts patron in Canada. Like Phyllis Lambert, an architect who left her practice to found the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, Stewart has increasingly become a cultural impresario, after playing violin for many years with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and leading the McMaster Symphony Orchestra as concertmaster. In previous homes, Stewart and his musical buddies who were oftentimes also mathematicians would play together in impromptu concerts.

In May, 2008, in the Integral House's two-storey performance hall, the St. Lawrence String Quartet will play a composition by Vancouver-based Rodney Sharman, a work that Stewart has commissioned for the official opening of his house. The mathematician then plans to showcase promising young musicians in concerts for about 150 guests in his home. And he's also interested in having jazz concerts at home and maybe some cabaret..

"It's kind of the culmination of my life, really," says Stewart, who was the major naming donor to the James Stewart Centre for Mathematics at McMaster University and the library at the Fields Institute for math research in Toronto.

He plans to move into the lower section of the house this fall. "Having become this architectural buff, it'll give me great pleasure to walk down to my office to continue writing. Knowing what went into it, and knowing it's a very complex house to build will increase my pleasure."

The exhibition Integral House -- On Process continues at the Eric Arthur Gallery at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, 230 College St., until April 28.


Apr 22, 2007
Thanks thedeepend.

Oh wow, that truly is for the lack of a better word - hot. The city doesn't see such blatant display of personal wealth done so tastefully.


Roy G Biv

Senior Member
Sep 10, 2007
What fundraiser on the 25th? for what, where?
Date: September 25, 2008
Time: 6:00-9:00 pm
Venue: Integral House, private residence of Dr. James Stewart

Step inside the most talked about house in Toronto and help build the next generation of groundbreakers.

Designed by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, featured in Toronto Life and The Globe and Mail, and documented by Edward Burtynsky, Integral House has generated unprecedented buzz and is destined to be a magnet for architecture experts and enthusiasts worldwide. It has been called the "house of the century".

Inside this dazzling 18,000 sq ft private residence of Dr. James D. Stewart, you will rub elbows with enthusiastic supporters of one of the most exciting developments in Canadian university life. The University of Toronto's Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies has forged new ground since its origin in 1998. Don't miss an exclusive opportunity to see this truly extraordinary home and help support the next generation of groundbreaking students in this internationally recognized academic program.