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In Good Taste, day 3
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Katrina Olson-Mottahed

CREATIVE HAVENS

Drawn to the edge


How Toronto's rebel architect Alexander Josephson captures creative moments in overdrive

Creative Havens is a five-part series where Canadian leaders in design, architecture, film and fashion share what fuels their creative spirit and how they unwind and recharge.

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Partisans co-founder Alexander Josephson sees architecture not just as a discipline but as a social statement. “We started the studio as an act of resistance, not in a childish way or a foolish way. It was a generation that was going to just be absorbed into the corporate system, and we didn’t want to be part of that. We’re named after a movement and a word that implies a kind of fight or a struggle,” says Josephson. The architect, who runs the firm with two partners Pooya Baktash and Jonathan Friedman, is a risk-taker, something he believes is necessary for design. “I think that great architecture is about taking risks. Really big risks.”

Creative Havens is a five-part series where Canadian leaders in design, architecture, film and fashion share what fuels their creative spirit and how they unwind and recharge.

BROUGHT TO
YOU BY

In 2011, Josephson and Baktash did the unthinkable and launched their design studio straight out of school. “This is a grassroots studio that defies the logic of how most architecture studios have started. So, on the one hand, we don’t have the baggage, but on the other hand, we don’t have some of the experience,” explains the architect. “I think it allows us to be more creative. It allows us to think differently.”

Toronto-based Partisans, considered a leading architecture studio for the digital age.

Toronto-based Partisans is considered a leading architecture studio for the digital age.

Katrina Olson-Mottahed in winter

I think architecture and space are fundamental to a lot of conflict we face between societies. But it could also be a solution to bringing us together, to make us happier.

ALEX JOSEPHSON

It’s the kind of thinking that has allowed them to experiment with forms and materiality without ever taking the conventional route. Take, for example, Partisans’ widely acclaimed design for Toronto’s Bar Raval, where wood is sculpted to the point where it almost takes a liquid form. Or, on a smaller scale, their Gweilo floor lamps, in which sheets of hand-moulded transparent acrylic take on sculptural, abstract ghost-like forms.

The interior of Toronto’s Bar Raval, designed with panels of contoured mahogany, is one of Partisans most celebrated projects.

The interior of Toronto’s Bar Raval, designed with panels of contoured mahogany, is one of Partisans most celebrated projects. COURTESY OF PARTISANS

For Josephson, design inspiration comes from everywhere. “The world around us is like a swarm of ideas. And if we have the right antenna, we can capture the best of them or hear them. We’re drowning in possibility and the question is how do you choose? It’s the editing process that filters out the unnecessary noise needed for clarity of design. A part of the struggle is the ability to decipher through the slough of information and imagery that one is surrounded with on a daily basis."

Olson-Mottahed's desk, including a Seletti monkey lamp

Josephson turns to the art of drawing as an escape from his hectic schedule as an architect, business owner and a lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture. He dedicates a room in the Partisans’ spacious office as the drawing studio where he works on both large scale mixed-media drawings, as well as small pocket-sized sketchbooks. “I draw, and then I sort of paste, and I also paint. It’s more like a drawing than a painting, I would say.”

Also in this series Furniture designer Zoë Mowat finds sanctuary in the rhythm of city life

Josephson’s drawings are often exhibited as part of Partisans’ work, as opposed to an individual endeavour. “I probably shy away from that because it sort of denies the possibility that it’s a group effort, which it really is.”

>A neon sign in Olson-Mottahed's home office is surrounded by a mood board of inspirational women in film, art and fashion.

The world around us is like a swarm of ideas. And if we have the right antennae we can capture the best of them or hear them.

ALEX JOSEPHSON

Although the studio is very much his sanctuary, the architect also finds tranquility in driving around the city. “I know it sounds crazy, but I like to just sit in the car and, if I'm really stressed out, I'll just drive around over, and over, and over again.”

Crystals in bathroom

As Partisans’ design practice continues to grow, Josephson is keen on taking on theoretically challenging projects. “I’d like to do a spiritual space. I’d like to do a universal temple, or a mosque, or a church.” It’s a passion that stems from his time as a student at University of Waterloo School of Architecture and the University of Rome, where he focused on the interpretations between Islamic architecture, Judaism and Christianity. “I’ve always been interested in spirituality and how the modern world interfaces with the realities of how science and technology have evolved around those traditions. And I think that architecture can be the vessel by which commonality, understanding, compassion, empathy and collaboration between these faiths and traditions can be achieved. So, I think architecture and space are fundamental to a lot of the conflict we face between societies. But it could also be a solution to bringing us together, to make us happier.”

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A proud sponsor of Creative Havens, Lincoln has long recognized the power of a personal sanctuary. Our vehicles are thoughtfully crafted with beautifully serene interiors, rich amenities and revitalizing comfort. Our ownership services further elevate that experience by keeping Lincoln owners moving effortlessly through the world, leaving them feeling uplifted, not depleted when they drive a Lincoln. Discover more at LincolnCanada.com.

CREDITS: Oversight by KATHERINE SCARROW; Photography by THOMAS BOLLMANN; Editing by ELIZABETH HOLLAND; Art direction and design by JEANINE BRITO; Development by KYLE YOUNG

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

Content from the Globe and Mail
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