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03.20.2014
Emerging Voices> Williamson Chong Architects
Toronto-based firm brings a sense of craft to digitally-informed design.
Abbey Gardens, Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada.
Courtesy Williamson Chong

The Architectural League’s 32nd annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the future direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture this month in Manhattan. The first lecture takes place tonight, Thursday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. when Taller |Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo| and Williamson Chong Architects will present their work.

Williamson Chong Architects

Toronto,
Ontario

Williamson Chong Architects brings warmth and a sense of craft to their digitally fabricated modern environments. The Toronto-based team of nine headed by Betsy Williamson, her husband Shane, and Donald Chung has taken a material-driven approach to research and design, resulting in a series of context-sensitive projects that subtly test the limits of materiality.

“Our first project—House in Frogs Hollow—got quite a lot of recognition,” said Betsy Williamson. Hunkered into a rugged landscape overlooking Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, the house is divided into two stacked sections of wood, glass, and concrete. A concrete plinth negotiates the hillside with what the firm described as “muscular tectonics” before a glass wall opens up the living spaces to a sweeping landscape vista. Above, a stoic mass clad in CNC-milled, iron-oxide–tinted pine siding arranged vertically creates the effect of fringed curtains concealing the sleeping quarters.

 
Abbey Gardens, Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada.
Courtesy Williamson Chong
 

Williamson described the firm’s work as “digital but not in a ‘swoopy’ sense.” Instead, their designs are restrained with an emphasis on transforming materials like wood. “What can you do with a small budget and a stack of wood?” said Williamson. Her approach is to transform the material through fabrication. “Things that seem simple are not. That’s how we want to approach technology.” The firm has grown up with the emergence of digital practice. “When we started working there was no one doing CNC milling in Toronto, but now there are dozens of people doing it,” said Williamson.

Williamson Chong has designed three multi-generational co-housing projects, including the nearly complete Grange Double Dwelling in Toronto’s Chinatown. A series of units are stacked atop one another, culminating in a strong brick corner that holds the intersection. Williamson said affordability was key. “We went to a brick yard to get the left-over remnants for the facade,” she said. The mottled color of the various bricks will be concealed by painting the facade white.

 
 
House in Frogs Hollow, Grey Highlands, Ontario Canada.
Bob Gundu
 

At Abbey Gardens outside Toronto, Williamson Chong has master planned a 441-acre former gravel quarry into what will slowly become a community focused on sustainable agriculture practice and education. “The local community needed a center for collecting knowledge about food, not just a place to buy food,” said Williamson. Her team distributed a series of structures around a prefabricated greenhouse called the “Cradle” that wraps around a depression in the landscape.

The firm has spent considerable time researching traditional and modern wood construction across the world, from Scandinavia to Japan. Williamson said she is attracted to the material for its warmth and ease of transformation. “We are a 100 percent building practice,” said Williamson.

Branden Klayko

 

 
Galley House, Toronto, Ontario.
Bob Gundu
 

Aspen Overpass: Aspen Overpass Skating Pavilion for Victoria Park, View of the leisure skate rink with the pavilion beyond.
Courtesy Williamson Chong
 
   
Left to right: Bala Line House, Front Elevation of the house under construction; Blantyre House, View of the 'Kitchen Studio' showing the white oak millwork wall; Howland Residence.
Bob Gundu
 

Grange Double Dwelling under construction, Toronto, Ontario.
Bob Gundu