Anya Moryoussef was aiming for the skies.
The young Toronto architect was hired to rebuild a little house, just one storey high and 17 feet wide – and yet, in terms of space and light, she chose to go big. “I am interested in this idea of an infinite architecture,” she said, as we sat in the living room she designed for the house off Danforth Avenue. “The space is not huge, but you have a connection to the sky, and it seems to go on forever.”
A big claim, and the space itself cashes the cheque. The living room, roughly 8 feet wide, has a sawtooth roof; on top of the regular ceiling is a long inverted-V lined with south-facing windows. Light tumbles in up there, and throws dappled shadows of branches onto the white walls. It’s a simple idea, constructed with ordinary building materials – but a beautiful idea that’s executed beautifully.
Indeed the whole house is architecture with a capital A. It shows Ms. Moryoussef, who formerly worked with the Toronto firm Superkul and with Sarah Wigglesworth in London, as a mature talent.
The lucky resident is Laurel Hutchison, a retired schoolteacher who had, she told me, no intention of becoming a patron of design. She settled in the mid-2000s here on Craven Road, an odd street with garages on one side and small houses on the other. Her house was “very modest,” she recalled, and after a while, a wall was falling apart. She hired a contractor, and he brought bad news: the structure had been damaged in a fire and essentially the whole building needed to be replaced. She hired Ms. Moryoussef to design a new structure and gave her wide latitude.
“Laurel was an incredible client: she had very few expectations, or requirements,” Ms. Moryoussef said. “She said, ‘I just want something modest. But I want an inspiring, light-filled home, and I want privacy.’”
The architect delivered exactly this by controlling the arrangement of windows. The front of the house faces west, and the front door is at the southwest corner. This is glass, but views into the house are mostly obstructed by the lavender painted cabinets of the kitchen. Light comes in; the eyes of passersby can’t reach in to the interior.
Then, past the sunny living room, is a small painting studio and the one bedroom. A porch runs along one side of the house, floored with Brazilian ipe wood. Nothing special – except that the porch has a ceiling; when you see it from inside, it reads like another room.
The experience of these elements is more complex than it sounds on paper; the building feels much larger than it actually is, both intuitive and spatially complex.
What could an architect of Ms. Moryoussef’s skill accomplish in public buildings? Soon Toronto will see. Her firm is renovating a park pavilion, as part of a revamp of the city’s L’Amoreaux Kidstown Water Park in Scarborough.
She’s a subcontractor to the landscape architecture firm PMA. Of course. A small firm like hers would not be seen as qualified for a public building in Toronto. Such a job would typically go to a larger design firm, who would then put junior staff on the job and crank out something speedy and mediocre. That sort of “procurement” process, which prizes experience, hurts talented designers of Ms. Moryoussef’s generation and deprives everyone else of quality design.
“And it’s ironic, because this house project is much more complicated than that one,” she told me. “In that case, the city is going to get a very ambitious building.”
Judging from this house, she can turn something small into something very grand.