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Home on Ilford Ave. built by recent Ryerson Architecture grads Lilli Vu and Allan Campbell. (James J. Burry)
Home on Ilford Ave. built by recent Ryerson Architecture grads Lilli Vu and Allan Campbell. (James J. Burry)

Architecture

At the head of the class Add to ...

Allan Campbell and wife Lili met at Ryerson's School of Architecture, and when they married almost three years ago they wanted to build a life together, but also houses.

"Architecture is tangible, one of the most practical arts I know," says Mr. Campbell, who experimented with engineering before realizing his true calling was building design.

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"For me it's about your living space as an art form," adds Ms. Campbell, who contemplated a career in fashion until her immigrant Vietnamese parents counselled her to choese a profession they believed had more stability while also being artistic.

"In creating your surroundings you want them to reflect your life or maybe more how you'd like your life to be," she continues. "That's what we aimed for in doing this house: We wanted to represent Allan and me, the things we believe in."

Besides architecture as a functional expression of themselves as creators, what the couple believe in, and believe in strongly, is sustainability, as mirrored by their own eco-friendly infill home that they built from scratch in Toronto's west end.

Sustainability is their industry's latest buzz word, borrowed from the rapidly accelerating green movement that has many citizens around the world, but particularly young people in the 20 to 40 age range group, increasingly scrutinizing their environments and lifestyle choices for signs of eco-responsibility.

But for the Campbells - he's 31 and she's 28 - sustainability isn't just a fashionable noun or even a trend.

"There's actually a new architecture that's growing out of the sustainability cause," says Mr. Campbell, who three years ago quit his job with a conventional builder to create Re-Vu Group (Vu is his wife's maiden name), a company specializing in custom eco-friendly homes built according to the U.S.-administered LEED green building rating system.

That system, as elaborated on the LEED website, is designed to promote design and construction practices that "increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving occupant health and well-being."

The Campbells didn't write that mission statement but they did consciously (and conscientiously) adhere to it in creating their two-storey home on Ilford Road, located near St. Clair and Christie and within walking distance of the Wychwood Barns artistic centre.

The house is registered with the Canadian Green Building Council and the couple is now in the process of applying for a high level of LEED certification. After that, the plan is to put the house on the market with a list price of $1.295-million, the idea being to build another as a result of the success of this one.

"We took an ugly duckling and decided to move it forward with the concept of green infill architecture," Ms. Campbell says.

"It meant we worked with existing housing stock, redeveloping it to meet the future needs of society," Mr. Campbell adds.

The 80-by-23-foot lot originally supported a 100-year-old bungalow that the couple bought in the fall of 2009 for $395,000 with the intention of tearing it down and building a two-storey, three-bedroom home of their own design.

She: "I like clean lines and open spaces and picture I like to live in a space and still feel a connection with the outdoors."

He: "I love being technical about a building. I love the science behind design. For me form follows function, but that function must include sustainability and durability."

Lumber from the tear-down was used to make a shed in the rear garden and to support the walls of the light-filled finished basement. While building, they forged a relationship with garbage recycler Turtle Island, which enabled them to keep 80 per cent of their construction trash out of landfills.

Featuring solar panels, heat recovery ventilation, rainwater collection, drain water heat recovery, permeable landscaping, and passive design elements, the new 1,400-square-foot house is as beautiful as it is energy-efficient and ethically constructed:

Radiant heat floors made of chocolate-coloured Canadian maple, a vanilla-toned Cesar stone island in the open-concept kitchen, a glass, steel and wood open-tread staircase with a remote-controlled skylight at the top of the tower to draw out hot air, large windows with overhangs designed to keep the hot summer sun out and the winter sun in.

The house also has a fenced-in Asian-inspired backyard as well as two tiers of vegetative roofing.

It's like a meadow up there," says Mr. Campbell. "It really feels like a backyard."

Hard to believe this picture-perfect residence was largely a design experiment, the couple's only previous building experience having been their first home, located near Bloor West Village, which they gutted and renovated but ultimately found wanting.

"We did some green features and modernized the interior," says Ms. Campbell, who works for Core Architects in their retail division.

"But we weren't able to do all that we wanted to do. This house is more what Allan and I represent."

Assisting them on their $800,000 project, what the Campbells estimate they spent to make their home LEED-certification worthy, was fellow Ryerson School of Architecture grad, Jason Deline.

"For me architecture happens at the intersection of design and building. Allan's very good about the technical side of building while Lili's good at design, taking a range of materials and making them coherent. I exist between the two," says Mr. Deline, 30, Mr. Campbell's best man at his wedding and now his business partner at Re-Vu Group.

But when asked to define the house that he and his wife built, Mr. Campbell offers up a definition that is neither design-oriented or technical, preferring to focus more on the environmental concerns that prompted the project in the first place.

"I call it Collective Independentism," he says, eschewing the easier categories of green and modern in naming the architectural style that, if not uniquely his, belongs certainly to his generation of home buyers.

"I'm all about making people independent, getting them to grown their own vegetables and live of the grid," Mr. Campbell says.

"I believe in creating environments that allow people to live their own lives, without harming the planet."

Follow on Twitter: @Deirdre_Kelly

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