Ravine House is located in Rosedale at the edge of one of Toronto's oldest forest ravine systems and just northeast of downtown. Although Toronto is typically characterized as a flat or slightly undulating terrain (surveyed as a 10-block orthogonal grid of small units in the late 18th century), the entire city is in fact asymmetrically divided by deep ravines which define neighborhoods and provide leafy natural parkland and walkways through the city.
Established in the latter half of the 19th century as Toronto’s first suburb, Rosedale is characterized by meandering, tree-lined streets and a combination of Victorian, Edwardian and Tudor and Georgian Revival homes in a picturesque setting. Ravine House represents is a rare example of contemporary architecture in the neighbourhood.
The house is sited on a deep half-acre lot surrounded on two sides by a heavily treed ravine forest, and on one side by a Georgian Revival residence. It is accessed off one of Rosedale's main vehicular routes, and the driveway is directly adjacent to a long bridge that traverses the ravine to the northeast. To maintain as-of-right approvals with respect to proximity to the ravine and side yard setbacks, the house was built on the splayed footprint of a pre-existing 1950s bungalow and as a result occupies a small percentage of the half acre site.
A backlit fence anchors the house to the landscape, and conforms to the ordinance of Toronto’s orthogonal grid. Constructed of horizontal teakwood slats and an interior zinc liner, the fence acts as a singular, unifying element that encloses the length of the property and defines a spatial field against which the house and outdoor spaces are composed.
To accommodate an extended family of six children and to maximize flexibility to host a range of business and cultural events, the house was conceived as a pair of two-storey masonry volumes intersected by a single-storey pavilion building. The volumes are pivoted to form an L-shaped courtyard dwelling for optimal views to the ravine. The vertical volumes contain the private, hermetic spaces of the house while the pavilion creates an open, flexible interconnected space for family gatherings and social events.
The strategy to build on a pre-existing footprint minimized the impact of new construction on the terrain and ecosystem of the ravine. The house was also designed in four zones to allow independent control and lower energy usage when certain areas are not in use. Dividing the house into smaller zones also permits mechanical equipment to be smaller, and to operate more efficiently. A ground source heat pump system keeps energy consumption low and absorbs all mechanical sounds, enhancing the tranquil atmosphere of the house.
As a city celebrated for its ethnic diversity and burgeoning cultural renaissance, Toronto’s private residential architecture remains (alarmingly) conventional and traditional. While not necessarily unique to Toronto as developers and designers across North America churn out mass produced homes mimicking historic styles, this is a rare example of patronage for contemporary design in private domestic architecture in the city.