By Mark Salzwedel…
The Architectural League NY’s 32nd annual Emerging Voices competition has chosen Toronto-based Williamson Chong Architects as one of its eight distinct design voices for 2014. The firm’s three principals – Donald Chong, Shane Williamson, and Betsy Williamson – were honoured in Manhattan on March 20. They were given the opportunity to present samples of their work before an audience of distinguished architects.
Chong, a Toronto native, spoke first during the hour-long presentation. He spoke about the topography of the city of Toronto, bordered to the south by Lake Ontario and benefiting from an extensive network of ravines. He stressed that opportunities for finding space for new residential buildings was a challenge in what is a crowded urban landscape. He highlighted what he called “orphan space” in a narrow laneway between two residences where their Galley House now stands. As a result of its tight site, the Galley House has no windows on the sides, but expansive windows at the front and the back permit natural light to funnel through. Chong, also a hockey player, used Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote to emphasize the firm’s commitment to forward thinking. (“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”) The firm is open to using new technologies in their design work and is committed to digital modelling throughout the design process.
Shane Williamson introduced some of the firm’s projects outside of Toronto. He explained the firm’s desire to design structures that integrate and merge with the landscape. One example is the House in Frogs Hollow, which seems embedded into the Niagara Escarpment.
Betsy Williamson showcased their Abbey Gardens project, two hours north of Toronto. The firm is using the existing contours of an abandoned quarry to create an ecologically balanced farming and education centre. The design includes terraced greenhouses, a structure for art and performances, and market space along the access road.
She also indicated that the firm’s Grange Double Dwelling in Toronto was evident of the trend of clients who are increasingly seeking multi-generational homes. One of three such projects the firm is currently undertaking, the 3,000 sq-ft Grange Double Dwelling is set on a corner lot and consisting of three separate units. The units are oriented one on top the other, with windows in specific locations to give the occupants different perspectives of the neighbourhood around them. This project increases the density on the site, while still respecting the scale of the adjacent buildings.
Mark Salzwedel is a freelance writer in New York City.