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Encounter Studios sound and production facility in North York, Toronto.Riley Snelling/Riley Snelling Photography

With apologies to Frank Lloyd Wright and his fan base (which includes this writer), no matter how much an architect nods to nature via the creation of low rooflines or blurs the transition between indoors and out, architecture, mostly, is about absolute control over the environment. The unpredictable nature of, well, Mother Nature, is not welcome.

That’s why, even as a child, I was fascinated by the rigidity and absolute control Mies van der Rohe’s brooding, black TD Centre had over the corner of King Street West and Bay Street. Heck, even where ‘nature’ was allowed, in the courtyard between the towers, it was in the form of a perfect square of shorn grass.

So, it’s interesting to me when that control goes next level, such as at a prison, a disease control centre, or – and don’t laugh – a recording studio. For, even at the latter, everything must be kept out in order to bring in whatever the client wishes. But über-control can often make interiors cold and unwelcoming.

Not at Encounter Studios: in a nondescript, low-rise, mid-century office/warehouse building on industrial Sunrise Avenue in Toronto, a twinkle of warmth and domesticity does exist.

“You have to understand we started off as an interior design firm,” says Sally Kassar of the less than three-year-old firm she co-founded, Architecture Riot.

Sitting in the cozy front room of Encounter’s new space, sunshine painting walls and plants in golden light, Ms. Kassar says that the “young and hungry” firm of three (Ava Nourbaran is still with the company, Fadi Salib has left) took on tiny residential jobs, some as small as 600 square feet, when they started out. So, naturally, they were surprised when the three brothers who own Encounter – Rami, Hadi, and Bassem Azer – hired them for their more than 5,000-sq.-ft. production house in 2022.

  • Encounter Studios sound and production facility in North York, Toronto. Renovation design by Architecture Riot.Riley Snelling/Riley Snelling Photography

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“We were very excited because we never wanted to be a purely residential office,” she continues. “We’ve always wanted to dabble in retail or commercial space.”

With the skill on display here, dabble might be too gentle a word. Open the door of No. 138 Sunrise Ave., and the first time visitor is struck by the yin and yang of black walls and white walls, of black-ribbed ceilings and white-ribbed walls, of hidden lighting, and a partially hidden door behind a slatted screen. In this space, guests are encouraged to mingle, chat, or use the long table to discuss projects. Two doors open to the sound studios, and a corridor leads to washrooms and a kitchenette.

“The average studio, you walk in, it doesn’t have the same intention,” says studio manager Ben Dundas. “You’re going to come in with your stuff and set it up, and we have it much, much different than that, if that makes sense.”

“A polished versus a very raw space,” adds Ms. Kassar.

“A living room versus a warehouse,” finishes Mr. Dundas.

And while the audio production rooms must be rather spartan because of their soundproofing décor and equipment-heavy furnishings, the big booth – where musicians perform – is quite luxurious with its embedded strip lighting and wood-look, perforated panels.

“We looked at a lot of companies, and they’re really expensive,” Ms. Kassar says of the panels, “and so Rami said, ‘Let’s look at making these ourselves.’ So we ended up ordering laminate panels … and [the brothers] made a deal with a laser-cutting company that ended up cutting them down and perforating them, which took hours [and] apparently the laser machine broke down.”

Of course in each of the audio rooms, further sound deadening is achieved by angling walls and ceilings.

Before entering the 3,090-sq.-ft. television production portion at the very rear of the space, a visitor may take pause in either the blue or purple washroom, or find refreshment in the pistachio-green kitchenette, made large enough should the brothers need to bring in catering services for an event. And since the room’s size didn’t allow for an IKEA-hack, Architecture Riot drew plans and handed them over to a millworker.

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It’s a complex design with demanding, multipronged programmatic requirements that reads as effortless thanks to the talents of the young, University of Toronto-educated women who designed it.Riley Snelling/Riley Snelling Photography

And, in an unintentional FLW-like display of compression-and-expansion, as a visitor enters into the final, large space, one’s breath is indeed taken away. The high ceiling, the lighting rig, the infinity wall, the billowy curtains: all combine to create a disciplined space that can be minutely controlled and changed according to the client’s desires. Yet, even in here there is a chill out corner set up with a couch, sideboard-with-turntable, chairs, and plants. And, over by the garage door (handy for moving in large props), there is another long table for impromptu meetings.

“If we have two different things going on at the same time, people enter through the back door for the studio space and enter through the front door for the audio space,” says Mr. Dundas.

It’s a complex design with demanding, multipronged programmatic requirements that reads as effortless thanks to the talents of the young, University of Toronto-educated women who designed it. In Architecture Riot’s short life, the firm has tackled everything from townhouse renovations and new residential construction, to the colourful Buno Coffee Shop (St. Clair Avenue West and Lauder Avenue), where everything from interior design to branding was addressed.

“We want our spaces to be out-of-the-box,” finishes Ms. Kassar, “which I feel we’re still pushing for, but it takes time to gain trust and get those budgets that allow for what you’ve always envisioned.”

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