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The top 15 architects in Toronto

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / February 22, 2014

architects in torontoThe top architects in Toronto are largely responsible for the changing face of our city, constantly breathing new and exciting life into the local landscape. Granted, when most of us think of Toronto's standout architecture, the splashiest, most notable new buildings that come to mind -- Daniel Libeskind's love-it-or-hate-it ROM crystal, Frank Gehry's AGO, Will Alsop's OCAD building -- are the handiwork of architects based abroad. But there's no shortage of architectural genius at work in the city; it's all over our schools, hotels, museums and homes.

While it's true that Toronto may not be seen as a true mecca on architecture's international stage (indeed, we're still debating amongst ourselves over whether or not Toronto should be considered beautiful) our best and brightest have increasingly made a mark around the world in recent years, designing everything from chapels and homes to embassies, resorts and cultural centres. There'll be a Toronto school of architecture yet.

Here are top 15 architects in Toronto.

KPMB
The world-renowned firm has three Order of Canada-honoured principals (Bruce Kuwabara, Shirley Blumberg and Marianne McKenna), twelve Governor General's Awards, and countless massive Toronto landmarks under their belts. Prominent projects include the Bell Lighbox, the National Ballet School of Canada, the Gardiner Museum, U of T's Rotman School of Management, and the retrofitting of the Stock Exchange into the Design Exchange.

Shim Sutcliffe
Shim Sutcliffe has matched KPMB's 12 Governor General Medals for Architecture in their 20 years of existence -- quite the feat considering their small size (only 11 people). They're well-known for their residential work, but architecture-hounds can visit U of T's Massey College, where the firm's touch is everywhere -- particularly in the Robertson Davies Library and the arched ceilings of St. Catherine's Chapel.

Ian MacDonald Architect
MacDonald is renowned known for his focus on the relationship between a building and the surrounding landscape. Perhaps for this reason, he's best known for residences, including a legendarily at-one-with-nature structure in Caledon. (He also may or may not have saved a marriage through an ingenious kitchen renovation.) Outside of private homes, you can see his handiwork at U of T's Sidney Smith Hall.

Bortolotto
Bortolotto does it all, including educational design (OCAD's digital media research centre and U of T's OISE building), residences (overhauls of homes on Borden Street and in Summerhill), and revitalization of existing sites (including Fort York and the Merchandise Building condos). Currently, they're designing York's new Welcome Centre for Student Services.

Moriyama & Teshima
Founded in 1958, MT's longest-lasting legacy on the Toronto landscape may be the Reference Library; recent projects include Ryerson's engineering centre and U of T's "urban living room"-inspired School of Continuing Studies. Some of this firm's most-lauded projects are outside Toronto, including Ottawa's Canadian War Museum (designed to evoke a theme of healing and regeneration) and the colour-shot Waterloo Region Museum.

Superkül
The cheekily-named Superkül handle everything from single-family homes to commercial and institutional buildings. Most fascinating are their sustainable projects, including +HOUSE, a dwelling in Mulmur, Ont. created with fungi-inhibiting building blocks, clay-treated walls, and a green roof. Their ingenious 40R_Laneway house (located at 40R Shaftesbury in Summerhill) also became a local design-watcher favourite.

architectsAlliance
There's a brooding, mysterious vibe to many of architectsAlliance's projects; chief among these is the dark-glass-clad X Condominiums project at Charles and Jarvis, designed as an homage to TD Centre designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. Further standouts: the Bloor St. revitalization project, the Thompson Hotel, and the curious mix of glass modernism and Gothic Revival architecture in the expanded St. James Cathedral Centre.

RDH Architects
RDH specializes in corporate and institutional buildings; a recent project is the overhaul of the Bloor/Gladstone library, which saw the space in the original heritage building nearly double. Other local projects include Ryerson's Continuing Education building and a trio of modern libraries in Mississauga; elsewhere, you can see their work in Ottawa at the Bank of Canada building (which features an indoor garden) and the RBC headquarters.

Stephen Teeple
The firn's range of residential, institutional and commercial projects includes prize-winning libraries and university halls (they had a hand in designing U of T's lauded Graduate House). The firm was also tapped to design a housing co-op currently standing at 60 Richmond St. East; at the time, Toronto Community Housing reps said Teeple was specifically selected to improve the board's architectural reputation around Toronto.

Diamond Schmitt
Diamond Schmitt's lengthy, prestigious portfolio reflects the firm's age (founded in 1975, predating most of the firms on this list) and scope (a whopping 137 people). Their Four Seasons Centre may be top of the list for Torontonians; other recent projects include the Ryerson School of Image Arts and the LEED Platinum-certified Centre For Green Cities at the Evergreen Brick Works. The firm's fingerprints are also all over the Regent Park revitalization project, including the Paintbox Condominiums and the Daniels Spectrum community centre.

Hariri Pontarini
The firm's profile has skyrocketed locally in recent years, with projects including York's Schulich School of Business, AGO'S Weston Family Learning Centre, and numerous residential buildings and homes. (You'll soon be seeing their work at One Bloor East; they were tasked with the reboot of the long-running project after the site changed hands.) Their greatest triumph, however, may be the forthcoming Baha'i Center of South America, a translucent stone-covered structure reminiscent of a flower ready to open.

Drew Mandel Designs
The firm's claim to fame might be an open-concept Rosedale home that doubled as the setting for much of the action in Atom Egoyan's film Chloe (fun fact: the exterior shots are of a different home -- one designed by Teeple). They also won numerous accolades for the restoration of a home originally commissioned by Group of Seven member Lawren Harris. (Bonus: check out the brilliant staircase in this open-concept family home in the Beach.)

The Drawing Room
Drawing Room is a smaller firm focusing on residences, with Bloor St. apartments, cottages on Lake Simcoe and luxury homes in the Beaches, Rosedale and Forest Hill under their belts. In a scene dominated by neomodernist buildings, the firm's occasional nods to the traditional architecture of the neighbourhoods they touch without turning into cheap replication -- as in this Rosedale home -- is downright refreshing.

Paul Raff Studio
Paul Raff Studio may be best known in Toronto for the Cascade House, which features a front window feature evocative of a waterfall; we named it one of Toronto's coolest houses back in 2010. But Raff has made his mark worldwide, including resorts and multi-unit buildings in Thailand and Argentina.

Taylor Smyth Architects
Commercial and institutional buildings are this firm's specialty, including spaces at York and George Brown and a handful of Toronto middle schools and junior highs. But their residential projects also shine, including this insane renovation of a former Yorkville graphic design office into a bachelor pad.

Got a favourite Toronto architect or firm to nominate? Tell us in the comments section.

Photo by Sam Javanrouh

Discussion

36 Comments

glenn storey / February 22, 2014 at 05:39 am
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this is all well and good if you are talking about bigass public edifices, but what about smaller residential projects?
my nominees:
adam thom
jennifer turner
grey replying to a comment from Leslie A. Huzsti / February 22, 2014 at 11:15 am
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I like how "Brad Lamb" is supposed to be an endorsement.
Boian / February 22, 2014 at 11:44 am
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What about B+H? Not only have they built the ROM, the new ripleys aquarium, MARs medical complex, first canadian place, td centre, RBC tower, and MTCC. Furthermore, they have global offices in almost every continent. On top of that, they were ranked 58 in the world architecture top 100 firms in 2013. In comparison, diamond and schmitt was ranked 99. Who ever did their research for this article overlooked on the leading global architecture companies based in Toronto!
linden / February 22, 2014 at 11:54 am
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some of the buildings are trully great but they are only few in the city, and let's face it, no one visit Toronto to admire its "arhitectural wonders"
JS / February 22, 2014 at 01:48 pm
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KPMB? Everything they build looks the same (glass box and horizontal planes - GROUNDBREAKING!), goes completely over budget (see Vaughan city hall), and the firm itself employs some of the worst and most pretentious "DESIGN" people around. I agree that this list could have been pulled straight from Google's Top 15 Search Results for "Toronto Architect" + "good". How uninspired.
John / February 22, 2014 at 01:55 pm
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I would only agree with about half. Some are extremely outdated and irrelevant. There are many other local talents, for example MJM Architects...Outstanding community centre in regent park.
Pluckysod / February 22, 2014 at 02:01 pm
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Unbelievable that you didn't include the Metro Reference Libary as an example of Ray Moriyama's designs.
Eric V. replying to a comment from Boian / February 22, 2014 at 02:02 pm
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The ROM is a goddamn abomination. The exterior is interesting if passable, but the way they have organized the exhibits, and the amount of suffocating white plaster walls in that place have sucked the life out of the interior of the museum.
999 / February 22, 2014 at 02:22 pm
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Actually the lead designer of UofT's Grad House is pritzker prize winner Thom Mayne of Morphosis in LA.

It is not the genius of Teeple.
Hahahahhaahahahahaha / February 22, 2014 at 04:52 pm
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No E.R.A? With the number of historical restoration and preservation that goes on in Toronto, they deserve to be high in that list.
grey replying to a comment from SLM / February 22, 2014 at 07:55 pm
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The thing is most of these lists are nominated by and voted on by BlogTO readers, so yeah, the complaints are kind of silly.

This list on the other hand, does appear to have been researched by someone not familiar with architecture, especially in Toronto.
AJ / February 23, 2014 at 02:08 am
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KPMB designed the Rotman school which opened in 2012. As a student in the MBA program, I felt it was a very poorly designed space from the student perspective. It is not entirely conducive to the needs of an MBA learning environment and there is so much wasted space, which I especially can't understand considering real estate in Toronto doesn't come cheap. Students had a lot of expectations and the design fell flat in a lot of key areas that has affected how students interact with eachother and how they learn. We paid pretty hefty tuition fees to be stuck in classrooms designed in the basement. The Rotman building could indeed have had much better functionality from the user's perspective, something which was greatly compromised for the sake of design by KPMB
Natalia replying to a comment from 999 / February 23, 2014 at 11:47 am
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Good eye! Fixed the story to reflect that it was a collaboration. Thanks!
ElleBell / February 23, 2014 at 04:03 pm
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I'd most definitely add Stantec to that list. Their transformation of the old McGregor sock factory into their office space was amazing to see during Doors Open Toronto. They also did 51 Division police station, the student centre at UTSC, the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, Bridgepoint Health, and many more. An impressive firm to be sure.
KMac / February 24, 2014 at 10:17 am
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Toronto has a lot of great architects and there are many who would make the top 15 list depending on what the subjective criteria is. What Toronto does NOT have a lot of are clients who are willing to take some risk and be less conservative. I know the architects at many of these firms and great designs are often whittled down to good designs by client requirements and budget cuts. If you want a REAL list of top architects, check out the upcoming OAA Awards winners. Juries are composed of peers, industry professionals and clients for the most balanced approach you can get. http://www.oaa.on.ca/the%20oaa/awards/Program check out previous year winners as well as 2014 winners to be announced soon.
kala / February 24, 2014 at 11:11 am
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The fourth largest architecture firm in the world, which has built a huge proportion of the buildings in Toronto - is based in Toronto and didn't get a mention on this list: IBI Group.
BillyO / February 24, 2014 at 01:30 pm
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It used to be aA but now HP is the best on the whole.
BillyO / February 24, 2014 at 01:32 pm
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Page and Steele/IBI have been responsible for some of the most drab condos in the last boom, kala. I'm guessing they are your employer?
le corb / February 24, 2014 at 03:36 pm
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meh

the best poutine list was far more interesting
kala replying to a comment from BillyO / February 24, 2014 at 05:51 pm
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Nope. Not my employer. I just work in the industry.. as you must as well if you know about the Page/Steele affiliation :) There was no definition of what standard is being used to define the "top" architects.
mies / February 24, 2014 at 09:06 pm
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Tiff building - sound in some of the theaters can be pretty bad especially when sitting near the back.
Mike / February 24, 2014 at 09:09 pm
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someone should stop Aa from designing anymore condos!!!
john / February 26, 2014 at 08:30 pm
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As a client who has worked with half the list of Architects on here and many others in the city, mentioning projects does not equal excellence in design, sadly many of the building's designed by the 15 have aged poorly, novel design ideas fail after a year which become maintenance nightmares, unhappy end users do to the design, cost overruns
Ynot replying to a comment from KMac / March 11, 2014 at 04:37 pm
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KMAC you have it wrong. The Ontario Architects Association (OAA) awards are judged by the public and NOT peers, industry professionals and clients as you claim. The projects are awarded more like the figure skating judges award the skaters. It is very subjective and aesthetic based. It is unfortunate that the OAA chooses to represent design excellence in such a way.
KMac / March 11, 2014 at 06:44 pm
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Ynot, the OAA Awards ARE judged by peers, industry professionals and clients. I know many of the people who sit on those juries. There is one of the many OAA awards that is "peoples choice". Perhaps you are thinking of TUDA? You can see who is on the juries here:
http://www.oaa.on.ca/the%20oaa/awards/2014%20OAA%20Awards%20Juries
Matt / March 17, 2014 at 04:06 pm
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What about the top 15 engineering firms with offices in Toronto? Interested to see who's actually designing our built environment/infrastructure...
one4832 / March 19, 2014 at 02:26 pm
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Stantec should be on this list and what about CORE Architects?
cliff / June 23, 2014 at 01:07 pm
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Hi. My 15 year old son has a profound interest in architecture and engineering with strength in math and physics. He has just finished grade 9 and is asking lots of questions. Any suggestions as to how I can help expose him to the world of architecture? Thank you, Cliff
Meg replying to a comment from cliff / August 20, 2014 at 09:30 pm
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Hey Cliff - Get him a subscription to an architecture and design magazine! My suggestions would be Azure or Canadian Architect
ulysses replying to a comment from cliff / August 20, 2014 at 10:22 pm
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Cliff - Get your son to visit the different buildings Toronto has to offer - old and new. Some of the good ones in Toronto are mentioned in the article. There's many events like Doors Open Toronto where many buildings open up to the public and even installation work at annual events like Nuit Blanche and ToDo.

Since architecture involves many things, courses like art, woodworking, graphic design, even computer programming can help him. (more art classes would've helped me a lot when I was an architecture student in my opinion)

If he can get a co-op in an architecture firm and spend an extra year in high school, that may give him a chance to see if this is what he wants to do to help him make an informed decision.(Architecture is a long, tough and challenging career ladder to climb)
GeorgeC / August 21, 2014 at 10:31 pm
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All these architects mentioned in all the comments in a whole shaped the Toronto Skyline , looking north from Polson Pier The Toronto Skyline is quite spectacular. It took all those from passed and present to shape this city into a world class destination.
GeorgeC replying to a comment from GeorgeC / August 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm
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All these architects mentioned in all the comments in a whole shaped the Toronto Skyline , looking north from Polson Pier, The Toronto Skyline is quite spectacular. It took all those from past and present to shape this city into a world class destination. Toronto is the envy of other cities trying to reach the status of world class.
GeorgeC replying to a comment from cliff / August 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm
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Hi Cliff , teach your son, architecture has no boundaries and near limitless realities. Start with past feats of design from ancient times, hillside cave dwellings, pyramids in Egypt,Stone Henge, The Great Wall, Mayan Temples, Taj Mahal , Toronto City Hall/Old Toronto City Hall the list is endless I've worked in the building industry for over 30yrs , I've reached the top of my game. I work with some of the top Designers/Architects in the Condominium building/development industry. The sky isn't the limit because soon we will be building beyond the sky. Space, The Final Frontier.
Matt / August 22, 2014 at 08:33 am
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Definitely one of the top architects in Canada are from Adamson Associates Architects.

Amazing designs
Arachnid / August 22, 2014 at 10:26 am
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Sustainable T.O. may be a small player compared to these big firms but their impact is far larger with true innovative practices such as the Passive House Standard. Award winning and world renown, check them out.... http://www.sustainable.to
marie / August 24, 2014 at 04:59 pm
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You are missing &co Architects. Major buildings in Toronto and a firm of many firsts. The largest steel columns in the world were creating by them and you can see those columns on Peter Street at the corner of Richmond. Check out One York is the largest project being built in Canada right now. How could this firm be missed on this list?????

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