For architects Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman – the L and G in LGA Architectural Partners – designing their Toronto home was an opportunity to innovate within the narrow dimensions of a 20-foot-wide downtown lot and to “demonstrate the many things we think are really important in our time, in an urban environment,” as architects, Levitt says.
The house boasts a bevy of green and energy-saving features, and is modestly sized at 2,000 square feet. Levitt and Goodman designed in a green roof for on-site stormwater management, mature trees for shading and cooling (these were so important, they budgeted for them in the construction cost), and beehives and butterfly-attracting gardens. A high-efficiency wood-burning stove and polished concrete floors with radiant heating warm the space, but, crucially and intentionally, there’s no central air conditioning Once summer is in full swing, they’ll open windows and turn on fans for cross-breezes. In a pinch, they can activate the green roof irrigation system. “It drops the ambient air temperature a couple of degrees, which makes a huge difference,” she says.
All these relatively low-fi tactics mean Levitt is highly aware of her environment – more so than if she could turn a single switch to steady interior temperatures. “If I spend the day working from home, I’ll actually move from one side of the house to the other for the daylight and views; “harvesting sunlight,” she says, as it moves east to west. There’s never a dull moment, looking out to the green roof, with plants growing and blooming and bugs and bees pollinating. Levitt and Goodman use the green roof as an experimental laboratory for testing different sedum mixes, to better inform their clients of what works when implementing green roofs in their projects.
“It’s been an incredible revelation – the complexity, the shifts and nuances [you see]. Once you’re attuned to it, it’s incredibly endlessly interesting,” Levitt says.
In the ground-floor living space, facing a residential street, there’s visual interest but also calm; a result of the spare finishes, 12-foot high-ceilings, and large, operable windows, covered by custom UV-resistant Gore-Tex drapery. It’s also a multifunctional space that can change according to their needs. “I think that’s part of what real flexibility in design is,” Levitt says. “It changes as your life changes.”
The sofa is from Italinteriors, with cushions by Bev Hisey. A coffee table is by a furniture design graduate from Sheridan College, purchased at a year-end show, and it’s laid with geometric objects: concrete casts of wine glasses set on a mirrored base, by artist Annie MacDonell and battered copper bowls by AKFD Studio and Ayush Kasliwal, purchased on a trip to India. Other artwork in the space are by Shelley Adler, Keesic Douglas, Luis Jacob, Jean-Paul Kelly and Katherine Knight. Many were friendly trades, some acquisitions. Levitt’s background is in fine art and she grew up with parents who were collectors of Indigenous and folk art.
Despite this urbanity, Levitt is a green convert. At LGA, she says, “We think about land differently, as an active participant, not as a substrate you plop something onto.” She likens it to the attachment and connection cottage-dwellers feel toward their properties. And Levitt doesn’t think this attitude would be misplaced in a city context – in fact, it’s a much-needed shift in mindset.
“I think we have to think about landscapes differently. To me, it’s a fundamental issue of stewardship and identity,” she says.