Shared memories of formative years outside of Canada are some of the links which connect Taymoore Balbaa and Chris Wong, principals of Atelier3AM, a Toronto-based firm with a passion for understanding the culture of a place. They emphasize the importance of context – geographic, social and cultural – and explore the unique circumstances that define each project. “We grew up seeing a lot of colonial architecture in our midst, which didn’t pay attention to context,” says Balbaa. The realities of culture vary by location, a fact the firm sees as an opportunity, not a challenge.
Their staff represents a cross-section of Toronto’s multicultural population, an attribute which allows Atelier3AM to use design as a sensitive response to the city, community and the environment.
Being both educators and architects gives Balbaa and Wong the advantage of having access to the resources of universities from around the world, giving them space to research and iterate ideas. Their university ties require them to maintain an innovative edge, while giving students the opportunity to be involved in a professional context. The universities earnestly expect their students to learn from that experience, and that is what Balbaa and Wong provide. Their experience in academia has helped to foster good relationships with their institutional clients, such as universities, who appreciate their knowledge of how they operate.
Furthering ideas through research allows them to exceed client expectations, which is what happened with the Margueretta House. The aim was to renovate a hundred-year-old Victorian row house and turn it into a modern space while preserving the Victorian style (owner has requested not to publish any photos, images or drawings).
By exhausting various possibilities, the most germane ideas become evident, ideas which clients may not even be aware were possible. That sort of technical creativity is one of the reasons why people hire architects.
On the Greek island of Crete, the Innovative Bioclimatic European School will be an international academic institution that will set the benchmark for similar schools. This project would not have been possible without Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH, a German climate engineering company who specializes in creating comfortable, ecological, economical and environmental buildings. The school will consist of three distinct courtyard buildings which act as playful incubators for each phase of life and educational section.
For the main headquarters of Education Through Media in Toronto, an adaptive re-use of an abandoned theatre created a space for kids to learn and hang out. Education Through Media is non-profit organization which teaches underprivileged children using media arts and technology. The community aspect of this project was very important to the client who wanted a welcoming space for the youth.
The Matrix Hotel’s concept comes from its hyper-dense Hong Kong location. Each building in its district visually screams out for attention, so they created an counterpoint. “It’s an alter reality to what’s around,” says Wong. It is a subtle approach to create an urban oasis, portraying a zen-like atmosphere to make its users forget the metropolitan frenzy below and above. Hong Kong’s population density is approximately 6500/km2 on a geographically finite area, forcing an ever-changing conspicuous verticality. By comparison, Toronto’s population density is 4150/km2. Though only conceptual, the Matrix Hotel has led to the design of a 24-storey condo tower in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, slated for construction in the late summer of 2014.
“No matter which city you look at, each building contributes to a broader continuum,” says Wong. Both he and Balbaa lament the universality and sameness that has besieged so many cities around the world. By strengthening their work with academic research, they hope to punctuate that sameness.