PLANT Architect Inc. is an award-winning, Toronto-based practice that branches into architecture, landscape, and design. On projects ranging from modest residential renovations to urban renewal on a civic scale, our studio’s architects and landscape architects collaborate across disciplinary borders to reveal a site’s potential and explore its context. As designers, we heighten the experience of buildings and landscapes, often by strengthening the relationships between them.
Both meanings of “PLANT” inspired our name:
• Our studio is emphatically a place where things are made: we value process, craft and construction.
• We have a deep-rooted connection to the environment – to a sense of place, landscape, and natural materials.
Founded in 1995 by partners Lisa Rapoport, Chris Pommer and Mary Tremain, PLANT has earned national and international recognition, including a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture, an EDRA Great Places Award, multiple national and regional Urban Design Awards, and seven CSLA (Canadian Society of Landscape Architects) Awards, including a National Award of Excellence. Our projects for Toronto’s public realm include the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at City Hall (in joint venture with Perkins+Will Canada), Forest Hill Village North Gateway, Kew Gardens Streetscape, Pottery Road Bicycle and Pedestrian Crossing, and Liza’s Garden, the Royal Ontario Museum’s green roof. We have also designed memorials such as Toronto’s Dundas-Roncesvalles Peace Garden, Dublin Grounds of Remembrance in Dublin, Ohio, and – in collaboration with artist and novelist Douglas Coupland – the Canadian Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa.
We are an integrated team of architecture and landscape architecture professionals: our combined skills enable us to create innovative and thought-provoking buildings, interiors, and landscapes at a variety of scales, and for a range of users and clients.
We believe beautiful spaces can be comfortable, durable, and functional. Our demand for precision and design excellence at every stage of a project’s life ensures our work is elegant, well synthesized, and able to stand the test of time.
Rooted in thorough research, investigation, dialogue, and experimentation, each of our designs is unique, and each is developed without preconceived notions of final form to ensure they respond to the existing site and its context in an innovative, sustainable, and thoughtful manner.
The ‘Big Think’
A design is only as good as the idea behind it. As a professional hub of creative, critical, and innovative thinkers, our studio is able to produce work that reflects the needs of our clients, the inspired visions of our designers, and the rigorous methodology of our firm.
We are interested in creating spaces that inspire cultural discovery, promote intellectual inquiry, facilitate public gathering, and foster creativity, conversation, and education. We are interested in the art of place-making – regardless of whether that ‘place’ is a house, office, museum, park, or town square.
Located in an already-populous and rapidly intensifying suburb in Canada’s largest city, East Point Park Bird Sanctuary is a uniquely valuable part of Toronto’s public realm: a surviving parcel of woodland and meadowland on a bluff high above Lake Ontario. Phase One improvements to this urban birders’ paradise include two small structures – the Viewing Pavilion and the Bird Blind – and the new and rehabilitated paths connecting them. Challenges included creating construction access on a sensitive site, and routing the paths through the park to minimize tree destruction. Working with the local Conservation Authority, we completed a tree evaluation and we timed construction around local birds’ nesting seasons. Our studio’s landscape architects and architects collaborated to ensure the pavilions would provide optimal and varied views of East Point’s bird life and landscape, while quietly complementing the site. Folded into angular forms evocative of flight, the rust-toned, weathering steel planes of the pavilions merge into East Point’s landscape. The Viewing Pavilion’s shape and orientation provide expansive views of birds in flight above the lake, and mid-range pond views. The two completed structures and a Soundscape Pavilion (planned for Phase Two) are positioned on a trail circuit designed to encourage maximum exploration of the park. The hardscape palette, which also includes concrete and galvanized grating, was chosen for durability and minimal environmental impact.
Forest Hill Village North Gateway’s design brief called for the creation of a gateway/gathering area in Suydam Park, at the north end of Toronto’s central Forest Hill Village neighbourhood. Typically, a gateway is a single prominent object, such as a gazebo or bandshell. Here, more ambitiously, it is a transformative act of urban design: the park’s entire street edge is now a gateway into the village, drawing in views, enhancing the park’s street presence and safety, and increasing public use along the park’s edge. Dominated by old trees with extensive canopy coverage, the view into the park is a picturesque arrangement of tree trunks in the shade. The project inserts two new element types: light posts and benches, arranged in forest-like groupings in front of and among the trees. Clusters of benches allow for clusters of conversation. Three modular bench components are combined to create multiple configurations: simple, circular, ‘ottoman-style’ seating; a ‘swirl’ bench with a central hole for planting; and semicircular benches. Light posts incorporate identity signage and at night emit an otherworldly, dappled light. New granite paving along the sidewalk edge extends into the park, creating a new oval stage and community gathering space. In the planters, a core of conifers ensures greenery throughout the year, and hot-hued perennials (supplemented by annuals provided by the local Business Improvement Area) inject vivid hits of colour into this shaded site.
Together, Viljo Revell’s Toronto City Hall (1965) and its civic plaza, Nathan Phillips Square (NPS), constitute an integrated, iconic expression of Modernism. Although NPS is Toronto’s signature public space, due to budget cuts at the time of its construction it was never fully realized. Over a half-century of use, it also gradually became cluttered, run-down, and insufficiently adaptable to evolving civic space usage patterns. The Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization strategically rethinks this 13-acre heritage site to transform it into exemplary 21st-century public space. Through the redesign or relocation of existing elements and a new series of buildings and gardens framing the open plaza, the Revitalization enhances NPS’s functionality, versatility, and appeal while augmenting its “connectedness” to its surroundings. The Square now faces outward to the city as well as inward to its central void: the landscaping and seating of a new forecourt along the south edge creates an inviting threshold, and to the west, new ‘green rooms’ face toward a law courts complex. Formerly a paved expanse, City Hall’s podium is now Toronto’s largest publicly accessible green roof. Relocating and redesigning the Peace Garden (added to the square’s centre in 1983) freed up the main gathering space for large events. The new Peace Garden’s terraced, planter-incorporating seating is a major structure that conceals and acoustically tempers the underground parking garage’s exhaust duct.
The redesigned front and back gardens of this urban Toronto residence create modern outdoor spaces to complement recent renovations to the house – a formerly traditional, Tudor-style house that has been dramatically updated. The materiality of the Markham Gardens landscape is tough and minimalist. In the front garden, canted, board-formed concrete walls, clad along the front and one side edge in weathering steel, frame a large, existing Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) and sculpture pad for a constantly changing display of the owner’s artwork. A weathering steel walkway leads to the front entrance. Bordered by a ring of weathering steel, a new multi-stem birch tree on the walkway provides a counterpoint to the towering, column-like form of the Ailanthus. To provide ample growth space for the birch’s roots, the walkway was constructed on top of steel beams. Board-formed concrete walls flank the walkway. Plants with soft, curvilinear forms were layered to contrast with the ruggedly industrial hardscaping: rising up behind the sedum and spurge groundcover are taller grasses and ferns and sculptural hedges, creating an undulating effect. The rear of the house has large windows framing the enclosed courtyard garden and deck, where an expanded-metal stainless steel wall forms a vine trellis. Black brick, local limestone and acid-etched concrete add to the industrial tones of the built material, creating pleasing contrasts with the extremely lush and highly textural planting.
The City of Toronto and the Roncesvalles Village Business Improvement Area commissioned PLANT to transform a ‘leftover’ triangle of land into a gateway to the Dundas-Roncesvalles neighbourhood. Part of the 1812 Binational Peace Garden Trail Network, the Dundas-Roncesvalles Peace Garden enhances the streetscape for pedestrians, links the site physically and aesthetically to its surroundings, provides commemorative space, and creates an inviting green refuge for pausing and people-watching in a lively urban district. This simple, naturalistic garden functions equally well as a community gathering place and as a spot for contemplation or conversation. The design integrates curved benches with planters containing a range of urban native plants and historical species found in nearby High Park. Drought-resistant plantings and durable hardscape materials were specified to minimize maintenance. Incorporated into the paving are graphics by local and First Nations artists that share stories from the War of 1812 and commemorate the more than 200 years of ensuing friendship and peace between Canada and the United States. This is a very small, irregularly shaped site, and its status as an infrastructural services hub made it even more challenging to develop as public realm space. But immediately after this parkette’s completion in 2016, it became clear that this new ‘people space’ had become a popular amenity on a site surrounded by busy streets.