story by Brian Libby
photos by Carlyle Routh & Larry Williams
When architect Pat Hanson and landscape architect Diana Gerrard co-founded their Toronto firm, GH3, each came with twenty-five years of experience in their respective fields. What brought them together in 2005 was a trend. With the influence of sustainability, there is an increased interdependence between design disciplines. In order to create inviting spaces that use resources efficiently, integrated design teams of varied expertise must meet early and often in order to address how one design decision can have a ripple effect on others.
Today, the firm has a varied portfolio that includes designs for the Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto, the Pearl Morissette Winery in Vineland, Ontario, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
“We’d actually worked on and off together on several projects, largely open space with some sort of built component. I think we both were attracted to the potential of designing open spaces in cities,” Pat Hanson says. “It’s really a bit of a new craft in North America: a firm that really bridges architecture, landscape and urban design, as a way of shaking up the professions a little bit, to see what the possibilities might be. And it’s turned out to be good for business. It attracts different people. Our present members of the studio all have a different view of how the work should be done. It’s a shift. Landscape architecture has always sort of been relegated to a kind of second-tier profession. Actually in our office I think the architects are some of the most interested in that work. There’s no question, the bar could be raised.”
One of the keys to GH3’s work is transparency: the idea that sequences inside a building are intertwined with light, sound and textures. In one recent project, Photographer’s Studio over a Boathouse (which won a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture 2010), the architects created a minimalist glass box amidst a rugged landscape of granite outcroppings, conifer trees and shimmering water. The juxtaposition works because of transparency. The architects encased the entire home in glass in order to help the client, a professional stock photographer, enjoy the full spectrum of natural, outdoor light on the inside. In contrast to the black granite on which it is perched, the lantern-like home and studio has a soft appearance in the landscape, with light not reflecting off but passing through its confines. Standing in the double-height living area is particularly dramatic; one feels perched out over the water. The almost theatrical effect is enhanced by the lack of clutter; GH3 designed an array of built-in furniture, all of which is white to contrast the dark granite floors.
Both the Photographer’s Studio and another GH3 project, House 60 in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood, “come from the same kind of thinking about spatial clarity,” Hanson says. “Part of that is the proportion of the space and to some measure the calmness. In both of those projects, trying to make a kind of simple volume that’s uncluttered is difficult. All of our residential work is preoccupied with driving as much daylight into a house as possible.”
At House 60, a renovation, the architects chose to remove the original façade on the front and the rear, as well as the roof, reconfiguring the entrance through the garage. (They chose not to retain the pink walls or shag carpeting either.) A grey stucco addition was built in the front, including a sizable window. A kind of master suite was added at the rear. The ground floor opens onto a large kitchen with a 25-foot-long stainless steel counter on one side and built-in pantries on the other.
“We tried to stress the floor-to-ceiling glass on both ends,” Hanson explains. “It’s a pure volume, a kind of continuous floor that extends your vision from one end to the other.” The stairs are set back behind a wall. The second floor is organized into an adult wing and then a children’s wing. One of the clients is an interior designer, who picked out a pattern of flocking birds that GH3 then applied to different walls in the house.
The rear of House 60 opens onto a sizable garden, which the design accentuates with floor-to-ceiling glass—so much so that the house almost appears to have been shorn off in back, revealing all its functions. The pool, nestled beside, seems to be as much a reflecting pool extending the presence of a jewel, as it is a place for the family to swim.
The firm keeps busy with both architecture and landscape projects—or sometimes something in between.
Above: House 60
Above: Photographer’s Studio Over a Boathouse