The top 15 architects in Toronto

The top architects in Toronto are largely responsible for the changing face of our city, constantly breathing new and exciting life into the local landscape. Granted, when most of us think of Toronto's standout architecture, the splashiest, most notable new buildings that come to mind -- Daniel Libeskind's love-it-or-hate-it ROM crystal, Frank Gehry's AGO, Will Alsop's OCAD building -- are the handiwork of architects based abroad. But there's no shortage of architectural genius at work in the city; it's all over our schools, hotels, museums and homes.

While it's true that Toronto may not be seen as a true mecca on architecture's international stage (indeed, we're still debating amongst ourselves over whether or not Toronto should be considered beautiful) our best and brightest have increasingly made a mark around the world in recent years, designing everything from chapels and homes to embassies, resorts and cultural centres. There'll be a Toronto school of architecture yet.

Here are top 15 architects in Toronto.

The world-renowned firm has three Order of Canada-honoured principals (Bruce Kuwabara, Shirley Blumberg and Marianne McKenna), twelve Governor General's Awards, and countless massive Toronto landmarks under their belts. Prominent projects include the Bell Lighbox, the National Ballet School of Canada, the Gardiner Museum, U of T's Rotman School of Management, and the retrofitting of the Stock Exchange into the Design Exchange.

Shim Sutcliffe
Shim Sutcliffe has matched KPMB's 12 Governor General Medals for Architecture in their 20 years of existence -- quite the feat considering their small size (only 11 people). They're well-known for their residential work, but architecture-hounds can visit U of T's Massey College, where the firm's touch is everywhere -- particularly in the Robertson Davies Library and the arched ceilings of St. Catherine's Chapel.

Ian MacDonald Architect
MacDonald is renowned known for his focus on the relationship between a building and the surrounding landscape. Perhaps for this reason, he's best known for residences, including a legendarily at-one-with-nature structure in Caledon. (He also may or may not have saved a marriage through an ingenious kitchen renovation.) Outside of private homes, you can see his handiwork at U of T's Sidney Smith Hall.

Bortolotto does it all, including educational design (OCAD's digital media research centre and U of T's OISE building), residences (overhauls of homes on Borden Street and in Summerhill), and revitalization of existing sites (including Fort York and the Merchandise Building condos). Currently, they're designing York's new Welcome Centre for Student Services.

Moriyama & Teshima
Founded in 1958, MT's longest-lasting legacy on the Toronto landscape may be the Reference Library; recent projects include Ryerson's engineering centre and U of T's "urban living room"-inspired School of Continuing Studies. Some of this firm's most-lauded projects are outside Toronto, including Ottawa's Canadian War Museum (designed to evoke a theme of healing and regeneration) and the colour-shot Waterloo Region Museum.

The cheekily-named Superkül handle everything from single-family homes to commercial and institutional buildings. Most fascinating are their sustainable projects, including +HOUSE, a dwelling in Mulmur, Ont. created with fungi-inhibiting building blocks, clay-treated walls, and a green roof. Their ingenious 40R_Laneway house (located at 40R Shaftesbury in Summerhill) also became a local design-watcher favourite.

There's a brooding, mysterious vibe to many of architectsAlliance's projects; chief among these is the dark-glass-clad X Condominiums project at Charles and Jarvis, designed as an homage to TD Centre designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. Further standouts: the Bloor St. revitalization project, the Thompson Hotel, and the curious mix of glass modernism and Gothic Revival architecture in the expanded St. James Cathedral Centre.

RDH Architects
RDH specializes in corporate and institutional buildings; a recent project is the overhaul of the Bloor/Gladstone library, which saw the space in the original heritage building nearly double. Other local projects include Ryerson's Continuing Education building and a trio of modern libraries in Mississauga; elsewhere, you can see their work in Ottawa at the Bank of Canada building (which features an indoor garden) and the RBC headquarters.

Stephen Teeple
The firn's range of residential, institutional and commercial projects includes prize-winning libraries and university halls (they had a hand in designing U of T's lauded Graduate House). The firm was also tapped to design a housing co-op currently standing at 60 Richmond St. East; at the time, Toronto Community Housing reps said Teeple was specifically selected to improve the board's architectural reputation around Toronto.

Diamond Schmitt
Diamond Schmitt's lengthy, prestigious portfolio reflects the firm's age (founded in 1975, predating most of the firms on this list) and scope (a whopping 137 people). Their Four Seasons Centre may be top of the list for Torontonians; other recent projects include the Ryerson School of Image Arts and the LEED Platinum-certified Centre For Green Cities at the Evergreen Brick Works. The firm's fingerprints are also all over the Regent Park revitalization project, including the Paintbox Condominiums and the Daniels Spectrum community centre.

Hariri Pontarini
The firm's profile has skyrocketed locally in recent years, with projects including York's Schulich School of Business, AGO'S Weston Family Learning Centre, and numerous residential buildings and homes. (You'll soon be seeing their work at One Bloor East; they were tasked with the reboot of the long-running project after the site changed hands.) Their greatest triumph, however, may be the forthcoming Baha'i Center of South America, a translucent stone-covered structure reminiscent of a flower ready to open.

Drew Mandel Designs
The firm's claim to fame might be an open-concept Rosedale home that doubled as the setting for much of the action in Atom Egoyan's film Chloe (fun fact: the exterior shots are of a different home -- one designed by Teeple). They also won numerous accolades for the restoration of a home originally commissioned by Group of Seven member Lawren Harris. (Bonus: check out the brilliant staircase in this open-concept family home in the Beach.)

The Drawing Room
Drawing Room is a smaller firm focusing on residences, with Bloor St. apartments, cottages on Lake Simcoe and luxury homes in the Beaches, Rosedale and Forest Hill under their belts. In a scene dominated by neomodernist buildings, the firm's occasional nods to the traditional architecture of the neighbourhoods they touch without turning into cheap replication -- as in this Rosedale home -- is downright refreshing.

Paul Raff Studio
Paul Raff Studio may be best known in Toronto for the Cascade House, which features a front window feature evocative of a waterfall; we named it one of Toronto's coolest houses back in 2010. But Raff has made his mark worldwide, including resorts and multi-unit buildings in Thailand and Argentina.

Taylor Smyth Architects
Commercial and institutional buildings are this firm's specialty, including spaces at York and George Brown and a handful of Toronto middle schools and junior highs. But their residential projects also shine, including this insane renovation of a former Yorkville graphic design office into a bachelor pad.

Got a favourite Toronto architect or firm to nominate? Tell us in the comments section.

Photo by Sam Javanrouh

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