Street House


A minimal yet radical architectural strategy transforms a landmark Edwardian residence in South Rosedale. The challenge of modernizing the historically designated Street House, designed by noted architect William Alexander Langton for Mrs. Elenor Street in 1908, began with a single, surgical gesture that would unlock the constricted, formal plan to become a spatially flowing and light-filled home suited to contemporary family life. Responding to the exceptional quality of original detailing, two methods were developed to reconcile old and new: shearing (where old and new are juxtaposed and contrasted with sharp delineation) and co-existence (the merging of and co-existence of modern and historic details where historic merit calls for respectful reinstatement).


The central surgical act is the excision of the exterior brick wall at the back of the house. This sharp delineation allows the robust articulated brick exterior to be retained, while the interior becomes reductionist in its focus on essential elements of light, proportion and volume. This ‘shearing off’ is expressed through new brick soffits that visually resolve the chimney and second floor stair whereby they float above the sharp steel line between original and new. The lower part of the brick exterior walls are replaced with super scaled glazed walls that contribute a new connectedness to the site. A new concrete plinth creates a new two-sided courtyard that aligns the outdoor space with the interior. Within, sharply contrasting elements include razor thin-aluminum fins that notionally cut through restored crown moldings and wainscoting to achieve pristine full-height openings that connect the more formal rooms of the ground floor.


Throughout the house, the beautifully constructed layers of the original structure are revealed and celebrated. The team was careful to keep the surface record of the house’s auspicious history, achieving a light-filled and well-proportioned balance between past and present. Certain features are stripped back to the bare brick walls, with traces of the past left behind as evidence that the building has been cared for and adapted over the years, with each generation adding its own layer to a unique history. The most expressive example is the north gallery wall, a palimpsest of previous openings and floor levels. The renovation leaves untouched brick joist pockets, a jack arch, a black brick stringcourse, and exposes the lesser-valued yellow brick of an unearthed original rising wall. This historical narrative is washed in light by the over-scaled transparent openings of the modern intervention.


Fluid connectivity between rooms and floors was the ambition of a radical, surgical planimetric strategy, which overwrites a compartmentalized configuration whose servants’ quarters and formal delineation between front and back of house remained vestiges of another era. Building on the spatial potential implicit in the L-shaped Edwardian plan, the transformation opens up the back of the house and lowers the floor level to unlock views back on itself and connect to a new courtyard. Within, it serves to introduce a fluid interior spatial flow connecting the more formal west wing of the house to the everyday east wing through a light-filled gallery. The insertion of a white stair connects vertically, its sculptural modern form using the Edwardian openings and proportions as both light-source and foil.


Location: Toronto ON

Completion: 2013

Architects: gh3

Consultants: Truman Engineering (structural)

General Contractor: Wilson Project Management

gh3 Team: Pat Hanson, Raymond Chow, Louise Clavin, Simon Routh