Altius Architecture


Toronto’s Altius Architecture doesn’t think like other firms. While some firms seek out attention for the showiness of their exterior designs, Altius believes in designs with a purpose. “We don’t do design for design’s sake,” Principal Graham Smith explains. “We’re not doing these buildings that are more sculptures than buildings.” Altius has built a strong reputation in Toronto as a firm that believes in creating sustainable single-family homes, and Principal Cathy Garrido says that comes from the firm’s adherence to the tradition of the master builder. Along with Principal Trevor McIvor, Garrido and Smith were students at the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture in the early 1990s.

During their time there, they started what would become Altius as a design/build firm that also performed general contracting work. As Smith explains, this experience gave Altius a solid understanding of the building process. “It was a very hands-on approach,” he says. “Our catchphrase at the time was that we were ‘designers who build.’” Today, Altius concentrates on architecture, but the experience its principals have on the construction side has gone a long way to distinguish the firm from its competitors. “Architects have become removed from the building process, and that’s something that we wanted to counter,” Smith says.

Garrido describes the firm’s philosophy as one centered on the idea of sustainable design, firmly rooted in a contemporary aesthetic. She says the firm designs homes in which the design serves practical functions as well as aesthetic ones, such as roof overhangs that help control a home’s solar geometry and reduce energy consumption. The firm believes mechanical systems are used as a crutch by many architects to overcome points in a design where aesthetic principles were given precedence over sustainability principles, and Altius strives to avoid that. Smith says the firm also insists on always following the natural contours of the site. “We’re always trying to create buildings that sit harmoniously in their surroundings,” Smith says…

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