published May 17 2015

100 Best Buildings in Toronto – #1 – The Integral House by Shim Sutcliffe Architects

As promised, there is going to start being some activity at this blog and it may be opinionated, inflammatory and perhaps even cringe-inducing.
No better way to start things off I suppose than with a bang.
Shim Sutcliffe is my all-time favourite firm and despite The Integral House not being my personal favourite among their works, it’s hard to deny it’s their best.

It’s easy to place first in a race against oneself, but there is a possibility that none of the upcoming 100 posts have what it takes to dislodge The Integral House from the number 1 spot. The hope is that this blog becomes somewhat of a collection of voices and opinions, so if people much smarter than I can topple my champion with design dropkicks to the throat, so be it. For now (and because there aren’t any current competitors) The Integral House is Number One.

The Integral House was commissioned by the recently passed James Stewart who awarded the job to Shim Sutcliffe after strongly considering Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and Steven Holl among others. Mr. Stewart was a violinist who played with the Hamilton Philharmonic professionally, but considered music his hobby. His profitable work was in the creation of Calculus textbooks. These two passions converged into The Integral House symbolically as well as spatially.

The majority of the home is designed to accommodate concerts of the highest order while simultaneously doing a spectacular job of my favourite architectural tight-rope act – dropping big picture power-chord rock ‘n’ roll from an overall design standpoint, while providing the most precisely perfected detailing. The details are at times experimental, at times feel patinated as if from 60 years ago (see handrails, flooring terminations, etc…) and always give the sense that each square inch of the home was thought through very specifically. Somewhere I’ve heard a story that Howard Sutcliffe had spent a full month sketching on the site to capture every sun angle for the custom ribbed mullions.

The only design requisite in the home was that it was to have curves, something Shim Sutcliffe hadn’t worked with extensively (their work to that point being very linear and making up their body of work that I tended to prefer). The “f-holes” of a violin are nearly identical to Calculus’ integral symbol and have featured prominently on the covers of Stewart’s textbooks; it was this symbol that became the inspiration for the Integral House and its fluidity of form. With the curves and the way they take the ravine, view and sun into effect one can’t help think of Shim Sutcliffe’s purported design hero Alvar Aalto, specifically the images of his Finnish Pavilion and his Savoy Vase.

Check here for a beautiful trailer to a full-length documentary that will be released sometime in the future or here for a condensed and perhaps even more beautiful version.

In the end many people have been blessed through the life and work of James Stewart (RIP) and his decision to give a young-ish firm a chance to create world class architecture in our little town.

Check Architonic for some images and drawings of this discussion.

The Integral House is currently for sale.