July 16, 2024

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2024 RAIC Architectural Practice Award: Dubbeldam Architecture + Design

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WINNER OF THE 2024 RAIC ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE AWARD

Dubbeldam’s office is located in a building on Toronto’s St. Clair West owned and renovated by the firm into a mixed-use creative hub. The building also includes a coworking space, a ground-floor marketing agency, an indie coffee shop, and a residential unit in a raised basement. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Founded by Heather Dubbeldam, a fourth-generation architect, Dubbeldam Architecture + Design has developed a reputation for innovative, beautifully crafted, and environmentally responsible projects that embody the spirit of place and people. Dubbeldam’s core values are deeply rooted in social impact, pursued through excellence in design and in practice, as well as through research and leadership. The studio’s diverse portfolio represents a wide range of project types that are unified in their commitment to design excellence and includes architecture and interiors in many sectors, spanning from residential, workspaces, hospitality, and mixed-use to landscape design and architectural installations.

A thread that carries through Dubbeldam’s projects is a desire to improve the public realm, not only through built work, but also through practice-based research and advocacy. 

Located in Ontario’s Kawarthas district, Catchcoma Cottage nestles three volumes—each with a distinct peaked roof—in the forest. Photo by Riley Snelling

In 2016, Dubbeldam received the Professional Prix de Rome award from the Canada Council for the Arts for their research project titled “The Next Green: Innovation in Sustainable Design.” This award allowed the studio to travel to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to study the most advanced sustainable approaches developing in Scandinavia, gaining valuable insights applicable to the Canadian climate. This firsthand field research deeply influenced the practice’s approach and process. The studio has also actively disseminated these best practices, including through principal Heather Dubbeldam’s speaking engagements across Canada advocating for social and environmental sustainability, climate-positive developments, and urban resilience.

A new dining room is part of the current renovation and addition to the 19th-century clubhouse for the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto. Rendering by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design
The firm’s recently completed rest pavilion for the Ladies’ Golf Club is a low-lying structure at the halfway point of the course. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

An unexpected learning from Scandinavian architects was their emphasis on the concept of social sustainability, emphasizing liveability, particularly in urban environments. Dubbeldam’s projects explore liveability by bringing the outside in, providing green vistas, maximizing natural light, and establishing physical connections to outdoor spaces. This commitment is notably evident in the studio’s single-family and multi-unit residential projects, where outdoor living spaces are seamlessly integrated across various levels, creating living areas directly linked to their surroundings and simultaneously expanding usable space. Biophilic design principles are consistently woven into their projects, ensuring that wellness features—including a palette of natural materials and access to natural light and ventilation—contribute to the promotion of occupant health and wellbeing, whether in single homes or commercial interiors.

Dubbeldam owns and operates their own building, which also exemplifies principles of environmental and social sustainability in its design. In addition to Dubbeldam’s studio, it includes a coffee shop, coworking space for creatives, and a marketing agency, and has been a catalyst for urban renewal in the neighbourhood.

Completed with BDP Quadrangle, the Bata Shoe Factory in Batawa, Ontario, adaptively reuses a 1939 factory building as a mixed-use facility with residential and commercial units, an education incubator, and a daycare. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Even on large-scale projects like the Bata Shoe Factory renovation (designed in collaboration with BDP Quadrangle), which was transformed into a mixed-use community hub featuring residential units, academic spaces, retail, and a daycare, the most advanced sustainable measures were employed. The building’s heating and cooling systems are powered entirely by an extensive geothermal system, while the preservation of the original concrete structure significantly reduces the project’s embodied carbon footprint.

Dubbeldam Architecture’s incremental density project proposes prototypes for the modular development of urban properties to integrate with existing neighbourhoods. Rendering by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design

Dubbeldam’s current research is focused on the development of missing middle housing typologies and pilot projects. This focus garnered attention from Sidewalk Labs, which led to a commissioned exploration of flexible housing models using modular construction, including co-living and adaptable housing. It has also resulted in the firm being commissioned to design projects for missing middle rental developers constructing small-scale multi-unit buildings in neighbourhoods and exploring alternative exit strategies. Dubbeldam played a pivotal role in the development of the City of Toronto’s inaugural missing middle housing pilot project led by CreateTO in 2023, focusing on low-carbon approaches and meeting the highest environmental standards (Toronto Green Standard V4, Tier 3). 

Dubbeldam Architecture + Design is a regular participant in Toronto’s annual Doors Open weekend. Photo by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design

Engagement and outreach have been core elements of Dubbeldam’s practice. Since 2008, Heather Dubbeldam has led Twenty + Change, a non-profit, volunteer-run organization established to expose and disseminate the work of a new generation of Canadian architects and designers through an ongoing exhibition and publication series. Heather has led four editions of Twenty + Change that, in all, have promoted and disseminated the work of over 100 emerging architecture practices. A fifth edition is currently underway, in collaboration with Canadian Architect. This has had a positive—and in some cases, profound—impact on the success of these practices across the country.

Dubbeldam is the coordinator for Toronto’s Park(ing) Day, part of a global, public participatory art project that takes place annually on the third weekend of September. Around the world, people temporarily repurpose on-street, boulevard or lot parking spaces and convert them into tiny parks and places for art, play, and activism. In addition to hosting an annual Park(ing) Day event at their studio’s building, Dubbeldam facilitates and promotes Park(ing) Day events from other local groups and individuals across the city.

Among other advocacy roles, Heather Dubbeldam chairs the advisory committee for Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (BEAT). Photo by Alena de Hahn

Heather and other Dubbeldam team members have been actively engaged in leadership roles with the Toronto Society of Architects (TSA) for over two decades. Dubbeldam’s involvement has included the production of the award-winning TSA Toronto Architecture Guide Map, widely distributed in Toronto and beyond. Heather and firm director Kevin McIntosh spearheaded the development of the TSA Architecture Walking Tours program, still growing in its 14th year. Members of the firm have a history of involvement in other organizations including Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (BEAT), Doors Open Toronto, the Design Industry Advisory Committee, the Ontario Association of Architects Council and Committees, alongside past and current participation in numerous grassroots events and activities.

Dubbeldam has been featured in, or created, public architectural installations at the Interior Design Show and at the Architecture Gallery at Harbourfront Centre, most notably with Pop-up Office, an installation showcasing flexible workspaces created entirely from recycled wood pallets, and the interactive installation pull.push.slide.pivot.lift.tilt.turn. In 2023, Dubbeldam was invited to exhibit its housing research at Time Space Existence, an exhibition hosted by the European Cultural Centre in Venice, Italy, as part of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Dubbeldam’s research work on incremental density was featured alongside eight other women-led architecture practices from around the world who focus on liveability in multi-unit urban housing.

Binary Spectrum is an architectural installation made from 8,000 coloured discs suspended from cables. It symbolizes Kitchener, Ontario’s transformation from a manufacturing town to a tech hub. Photo by Riley Snelling

Recognizing male dominance in the construction industry and the associated challenges for women in the engineering disciplines, in 2020 Dubbeldam initiated a policy regarding the inclusion of women professionals on their external consultant teams, with the intent to help foster a more inclusive and supportive working environment. The policy, which they refer to as “Women In Strategic Engagements (WISE),” stipulates that all consultant teams working on Dubbeldam projects must include a minimum of 50% female-identifying professionals. This initiative aims to provide women with enhanced professional opportunities within the field.

Dubbeldam’s work has been recognized with over 90 awards for design excellence, advocacy, and practice, including the OAA Best Emerging Practice award, the RAIC Advocate for Architecture award, the Canada Council for the Arts Professional Prix de Rome, and a number of Canada Green Building awards, OAA Design Excellence Awards, Azure AZ Awards, and Architizer awards.

Jury Comment :: Dubbeldam Architecture + Design is overdue for significant recognition as they have set an example for the breadth, critical sensibility, and sense of responsibility they bring to architectural practice and its social contexts. Their established office is known across Canada for their zeal and sincere belief in architecture as a tool for change. Dubbeldam Architecture + Design has an ongoing commitment to the profession at large through the quality of its work and significant advancements in equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.

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