Siamak Hariri shares inspiration behind award winning designs Image

Siamak Hariri shares inspiration behind award winning designs

By Newinhomes on Apr 17, 2018

Toronto-based architecture firm, Hariri Pontarini Architects, recently received two Design Excellence Awards, presented by the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA).

The Bahá’í Temple of South America, in Santiago, Chile and Casey House in Toronto were two of the 10 Design Excellence winners.

With the announcement of these big wins for a local architecture firm, we reached out to Siamak Hariri, founding partner at Hariri Pontarini Architects, to learn more about the firm, these two stunning buildings, and his take on the future of Toronto architecture.

Bahá’í Temple

Bahá’í Temple (NIH): What was your inspiration behind the Bahá’í Temple of South America?

Siamak Hariri (SH): The project was unique—a huge undertaking and a huge personal privilege, a project of a lifetime. Given the opportunity to design a sacred space for a world religion now approximately 170 years young, we needed the form to be a little new. Maybe it was a little bit like designing the first synagogues or the first churches. The design needed, first and foremost, to feel sacred and to express a welcoming structure for peoples of all faiths (or no faith at all), all backgrounds, all creeds, etc. So far, we are very excited that most weekends, 12,000 to 18,000 people are visiting and calling it their Temple.

The design was inspired by the idea of light, and how we might make a building that would become alive with light—embodied light. The Temple’s form captures the light within the envelope—within the translucent stone and cast glass used to build it.

NIH: What challenges did you encounter during the design of the Temple?

SH: The design was at the far reaches of our imagination, technology, engineering, and constructability. Above all else, we had a firm budget of $30 million USD, set in 2006, which we were pleased to have been within 3% of. Additionally, we essentially invented a new type of cast glass for the exterior cladding, in collaboration with the artist Jeff Goodman, and others. Another major challenge was finding the site (something that architects don’t normally do)—a nine year journey, which of course, we never anticipated. All in all, the project took 14 years to complete.

Bahá’í Temple

Bahá’í Temple

NIH: In addition to the OAA Award, the Temple already has so many awards! Which award for the Temple are you most proud of and why?

SH: The Temple has received many national and international awards. We are deeply committed to exploring the design process towards meaningful and enduring transformation, partnering with institutions to arrive at surprising and astonishing results. Awards are only part of the story. As with all of our projects, we are humbled by the recognition the Bahá’í Temple has received. It’s hard to say what award we’re proud of the most as they all have significance in their own way.

NIH: What was your inspiration behind Casey House?

SH: We were inspired by June Callwood’s legacy of caring and the concept of ‘embrace’—the embrace of old and new (the new addition reaching up and over, embracing the heritage house). An embrace around an interior courtyard and one of warmth, intimacy, comfort, privacy, connectivity, and solidity. Furthermore, the design of the exterior seeks to express the ‘quilt,’ so important to the history of Casey House — a symbol of the importance of community in the battle against HIV and AIDS.

We sought to evoke the atmosphere of a home—a warm and considered environment that can be felt in every detail—the patient rooms, the materials, the gathering spaces, the garden, and of course, in the ‘sliver’ courtyard.

Casey House in Toronto

Casey House

NIH: What challenges did you encounter during the design of Casey House?

SH: This is a prototype—one of a kind in the world—a new model in healthcare. In that sense, it was a deep collaboration between us and Casey House. We met weekly during the design phase with senior staff over a period of many months … and over many pizzas.

One of the many challenges of this project was balancing both the public and private faces of the institution. On the one hand, this project marked a moment of victory for Casey House after years of struggle. The new facility deserved to be a celebration, marked with a rightful place on Jarvis Street. On the other hand, we had to be mindful that there is still stigma attached to this disease, and so, the project also demanded the need for privacy.

The architecture provides for both. On the exterior, the new extension reaches up and over the existing heritage designated Victorian mansion, which has been carefully restored in collaboration with ERA Architects, and on the inside, the sliver courtyard provides privacy, delight, and, of course, light.

Casey House in Toronto

Casey House

NIH: Do you currently have any exciting residential projects in the works in the GTA?

SH: We have upwards of 50 residential projects within the practice. These range from very beautiful and unique high-end custom homes to internationally recognized high-rise multi-unit housing projects of up to 4.5 million square feet that are shaping the city’s skyline and promise to be the most desired addresses.

NIH: In as few words as possible, describe the future of architecture in downtown Toronto.

SH: We are very positive and optimistic; in fact, I could not think of a better place to practise today.

We extend a big thank you to Siamak Hariri for taking the time to discuss these two award-winning buildings! We can’t wait to see what else Hariri Pontarini has in store for the Toronto skyline. 

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