Residential urban infill project in Toronto: Cedarvale Ravine House

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Cedarvale Ravine House is a residential urban infill project designed by Drew Mandel Architects, sited at the edge of the Cedarvale Ravine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Built for a family of four in 2001, this contemporary home is comprised of 3,250 square feet of living space.

At the second floor, a zinc-clad cantilevered superstructure frames views from the inside and gestures to the woodlands. It floats above and beyond the main stone volume and allows the re-naturalized ravine plantings to be brought farther into the site.  A lap pool reflects light into the space under the second floor cantilever where a family can enjoy outdoor activities around the pool and barbeque.

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The ravine system, the most distinctive feature of Toronto’s geography, comprises of extraordinary arteries that flow through the city giving unique access to the wilderness. This infill house sits on a typical mid-town residential neighborhood street, but opens to protected woodlands at the rear of the property. The building mass is formed by pushing and pulling the desired volume across the site. It is further manipulated with void spaces. The sculptural expression solves programmatic requirements, maximizes views, provides natural light, and enhances the promenade and transition from sub-urban streetscape to contact with very primal forms of nature.

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The circulation of the house weaves through a modulation of intimate and expansive spaces and courtyards that lead to a glass-enclosed single-story space at the rear of the property. This is the kitchen and family room, the heart of the house. It also defines the south edge of the courtyard.  This volume has been pushed down to one story in order to permit light to the interior and views out to the ravine.  Large expanses of glass dematerialize the monolithic stone building and dissolve boundaries between the interior and exterior.

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The building is clad in custom local Ontario stone masonry units.  2”, 3” and 4” tall stone courses are laid in an irregular sequence.  The random lengths of stone range from 1’-0” to 4’-0” and intend to emphasize the horizontal lines of the building.

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The reaching superstructure is the structural feature of the project.  Its one story high trusses are embedded in walls and are supported on an exposed slender column.  Column supports are reduced by diffusing the overturning forces into both the roof and floor diaphragms.  A series of space-defining vertical planes and a mass concrete wall are used for lateral resistance.  The floating rear volume is complimented by a carport cantilever reaching to the front property line.  Its structure is a three-point steel framing system with wood infill, sitting on cantilevered concrete walls.

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The private areas located on the second floor feature operable floor-to-ceiling glazing with sliding interior wooden shutters.  The system allows one to control sunlight, privacy, air flow, and noise as desired.

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The second floor diverges into two wings separated by a double height dining space and its adjacent open courtyard.  This connection space is traversed by a bridge that leads to access to a green roof.  It contains a vegetable garden for family meals while insulating the one-story family room-kitchen below. Here, the ravine is brought to the foreground at the second floor spaces. Both the courtyard and the green roof spaces support the local conservation authority’s interest to have the rear of the property re-naturalized as part of a larger ravine stewardship program.  With much of the rear planted, these natural spaces provide additional amenity space and shape complex volumes.

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The restrained and limited material palette of stone, walnut, and concrete avoids unnecessary ornamentation in order to focus one’s attention on the site, natural light, and movement through a variety of open spaces.  The Cedarvale Ravine House provides opportunities to celebrate the everyday rituals of residential life and enhances the slow unfolding experience of a special site.

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Photos: Courtesy of Drew Mandel Architects

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