Paul Raff Studio Architects: Sustaining Beauty
Given that materials such as brick, glass and concrete are used in building, new thinking is needed, and this is where Paul Raff Studio is being socially conscious and globally minded.
Sustainability has now become part of our everyday thinking and ongoing dialogue — sustainability of our food supply, climate, natural resources, water systems and irrigation, and even our delicate ecosystems. We have been blessed by a good Earth and have one shot at keeping it sustainable by our own actions, especially for those who will inherit it.
But what about “sustainable architecture”? The notion seems odd at first, given the materials such as brick, glass, steel and concrete that are used in building. But how thought is given to the permanence of architecture and building is where sustainable architecture flourishes, and where Paul Raff Studio architects of Toronto are leading in this transformational field, being architecturally aware of the environment when designing and creating.
“The idea of just reducing everything and living with less is never going to fly with people on the whole to make sustainability palatable with the masses,” says Raff in a recent interview with Dolce. “We need to figure out how to be sustainable and deliver more. More fresh air, more quality places to live, work and go to school. We simply need to find a way to be sustainable and deliver more.”
Raff ’s natural affinity for the environment is a byproduct of growing up on the expanse of Canada’s Prairies. “I spent my childhood on the Prairies and I’ve always been interested in the physical world around me, the environment, the buildings and the landscapes,” he says. It has led his award-winning firm to always think of energy efficiency and sustainability when designing homes, multi-unit developments and even large municipal buildings.
“Any building or place that works really well, that functions well, is inherently more sustainable, because it is a better use of resources,” says Raff. “I myself focus a lot on energy efficiency and associated carbon footprints. Buildings and construction actually use more energy than the entire transportation sector, and everyone can do their part by enhancing the energy performance of their building, through insulation and solar efficiency.”
Raff began his career by practising to be both an artist and an architect, and he completed several pieces of installation art before creating Paul Raff Studio, after having worked in New York, Barcelona, Spain, and Hong Kong. The studio has created projects in Canada, Asia, the United States, South America and the Caribbean and takes pride in being socially conscious and globally minded.
“Working internationally and designing for different climates is like learning different languages,” says Raff. “It gives you a better appreciation for things, and I love it all. I am very interested in history. It’s not about the current trend; it is always about the larger picture.”
“We Need To Figure Out How To Be Sustainable And Deliver More. More Fresh Air, More Quality Places To Live, Work And Go To School”
Paul Raff Studio is internationally recognized for its passion for culture, which enriches its perspective and by which applies an informed approach to art, architecture and sustainability. Its projects are conceived for each particular situation, and the studio creates a vision of the highest calibre, with thoughtful and evocative designs, be it such world-class projects as the Chinese vice-president’s house in Shanghai or award-winning designs for waterfronts in both Barcelona and Toronto.
Even a utilitarian building such as a commuter subway station gets the special Paul Raff Studio crafting for achieving exceptional value and architectural quality. Among Raff ’s recent personal favourite projects is the Atmospheric Lens feature at the Toronto Transit Commission’s Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station, located just north of Toronto. This architecturally integrated artwork is a series of polished steel mirrors in the convex ceiling, reflecting life inside the station. Commuters moving under the “lens” see their reflections in the mirrors above, themselves becoming part of the ever-changing atmosphere of the station. It won Paul Raff Studio the prestigious 2018 global CODAworx Award, celebrating design projects featuring commissioned artworks.
In 2001, Raff became the youngest-ever recipient of the Ontario Association of Architects’ Allied Arts Award for lifetime achievement, and his studio’s designs have been recognized with numerous awards from the highest authorities, including the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts.
More recently, Raff has further pushed the creative envelope by designing a portrait of U.S. President Donald Trump. The portrait is made up of thousands of doorknobs, purchased at Ikea and made in China. The idea is to sell this distinctive piece to raise funds for Casey House, a hospice for those living with HIV-AIDS, which is located not far from Raff ’s office in Toronto. Not meant as a political statement, Raff explains that “it’s meant to help us all stand back and reflect on him and the time in the world right now.”
Raff — part artist, part architect, full-time creator — will always keep innovating and exploring through his commitment to sustainability and the fascinating results that brings. “In every project I do, thinking about issues such as sustainability can actually drive beautiful solutions.”