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Q + A with Our Architect Kfir Gluzberg

One of the things we get most excited about (other than juice) here at Greenhouse is design. Although many of our spaces are not much bigger than a hobbit hole, we want them to do a lot. We strive for them to be welcoming, functional, thought provoking and green. We also want each one to be entirely different from the last.

If you’ve been in more than one of our shops you know that there is a common design language that runs through all of them – living greenery, distorted 3-D greenhouses, unfinished blonde oak from Ontario – but that each shop is fundamentally unique, with its own materials and personality, drawing inspiration from and designed to meet the needs of its immediate neighbourhood.

So who are the design geeks who spend their evenings and weekends studying new ways of distorting the greenhouse logo, deciding that neon greenhouses reflected to infinity in two-way mirrors are a good idea, and reinventing the wheel with each new shop? One is Kfir Gluzberg, 30, our architect and the co-founder of Kilogram Studio with Devin Glowinski. Working closely with our co-founder Anthony Green, Kfir has designed three of our shops: Briar Hill, Commerce Court and Forest Hill. Today, he lets us take a peek inside his brain.

GHJC: You’ve lived all over the place. Where are some of the places you’ve lived, and how has moving around shaped your perspective?

Kfir: I grew up in Toronto, but I’ve lived in Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Neuchâtel, Rome, Barcelona and New York. I think it makes for a level playing field. You realize all of the things that the places have in common, and when I’m designing that’s what I try to appeal to: the base element, the most general themes. I separate out the cultural differences. It’s almost like separating fashion from fundamental qualities.

How has the architectural landscape of Toronto changed since your childhood?

Enormously. Now Toronto feels like an international city to me. Before it felt like a suburban outpost. I think it’s learned to transform and live with very derelict parts of the city. There are places that are completely unrecognizable that have been razed and rebuilt – for better or worse. But in general it feels like there is a vision that it’s moving toward, whereas I think before it felt very stagnant. At least when I was growing up.

What do you think has prompted that?

I think it’s probably Canadian stability. That’s what I see it as. I think it just draws people from all over the world. It’s such a welcoming place for immigrants. The culture of Toronto allows everything to coexist, which is nice.

Is there a particular part of Toronto that exemplifies this transformation for you?

For me Yonge and Sheppard is a good example. North York City Centre is a complete city – it has a main street that really is urban, and people are able to walk to all of their amenities, and even work – which I think people who live their lives downtown don’t realize.

Do you have a favourite building in Toronto?

I do have a favourite building. It’s the place that I always feel good at whenever I’m there: 401 Richmond. It’s young and buzzing, but the building is pretty old. And it’s not that remarkable as far as an old building goes, but it’s divided up in a way that seems like it can continue to be used for many functions for a long time – it’s pretty adaptable. It has things like a day-care, a green roof and a bridge between two buildings, and all these little pieces that take a lot of love. So you’re always discovering something new there. I still get lost there.

As Toronto grows in density, making the most out of small spaces is something we all increasingly have to master. You have a talent for this. Our Briar Hill shop is a great example. Do you have any specific strategies for making a small space as efficient as possible?

I think the big concern is about how spaces are lit, and about actually making things not feel small before worrying about being pragmatic and fitting things. Greenhouse can function with very little, which is a huge strength.

I think with Briar Hill, placing everything into a single piece of furniture is what makes that space feel a lot bigger. And also the fact that the back wall is day lit means that you’re turning the space into something that’s almost outdoors.

The fundamental theme there was bringing the sidewalk into the shop. So the fact that it was small – that’s secondary. Let’s think of it as a beautiful, cosy laneway that happens to be covered.

Is that why you call it the “Canopy”?

Yes – it’s the canopy because the ceiling and the front of the building should read as a block that’s suspended between neighbouring buildings. That was the idea. And what’s below it is like an open space from the front to the back. I think in the end it does feel better because of that.

Tell us a bit about your design for the Commerce Court “Grow-Op”?

First of all, it’s the PATH. The PATH is dark. It’s almost like a neighbourhood for Toronto – it’s really enormous – but you can walk through it forever and not see a single plant or very much natural light. Those were two things that the shop really started out with. Having a lot of plants, and using mirrors to both reflect light and give the feeling of continuous space in a place that can be claustrophobic otherwise.

How about the 3-D neon greenhouses that flank the entrance – what’s going on there?

Well, firstly their shape – on the façade of Briar Hill and in Commerce Court – is a game of perspective. It’s a trompe l’oeil. The company’s logo can be either 3-D or 2-D, so you can have some fun with perspective.

At Commerce Court, with the greenhouses over the planters, I was looking at the industrial language of actual greenhouses. It was about creating an endless planter. Neon has an industrial aesthetic associated with it, so having a continuous neon light over a continuous planter looks like a greenhouse – or a grow-op.

It looks a bit like a neon greenhouse subdivision. It’s also three Arcade Fire albums rolled into one. 

Well, they’re right on theme!

Could you tell us a little bit about how concern for keeping our environmental footprint small has played into your designs for Greenhouse?

Small spaces and minimal use of materials means minimizing our footprint. This is especially true for Commerce Court, which was designed to be dismantled for re-use.

The Greenhouse shops use materials that are simple, readily available, and in their natural state with little or no finishing. The shops all rely on low-voltage lighting, and Briar Hill and Forest Hill primarily rely on and were designed with controlled daylighting and natural ventilation. The plants at Commerce Court are a friendly reminder to take a breath of fresh air!

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever built?

A robot. And it drives around and burns things.

Why?

It was a research project. We were designing a robot that concentrated light. The idea was to create something that could produce construction materials without using very much energy. So we designed a solar powered machine that could roll around on a path that you set and focus sunlight with a lens to burn a material, which in our case was cardboard. So we could actually draw a pattern with this machine using little-to-no energy, with a material that’s quite cheap to create parts for constructions. That was a lot of fun.

Where did you test it?

On the roof of a concrete building in Barcelona. It was scary. The lens was very powerful.

You recently founded Kilogram Studio. We take it you’re a fan of the metric system?

I’m definitely a fan of the metric system. I like to think in tens.

How would you describe the ethos of Kilogram?

The main thing that resonates with me for kilogram is that it’s something physical. It actually refers to the weight of some matter. It’s constantly reminding us that what we’re doing has a physical implication. As a designer you get used to living in the conceptual world, but the physical world is the end goal for us.

Thinking on an urban scale is another thing that’s kind of unique about us. You’re always zooming out from what you’re doing to a very big scale, and then back to a smaller scale and remembering to look at things on many different levels. I think that’s pretty important.

Perspective games again. 

Which is a perspective game – yes. 

- GHJC

This interview has been lightly edited.

Kfir Gluzberg is the co-founder of Kilogram Studio, a Toronto-based firm specializing in architectural design, with projects spanning retail, residential, and urban space. Check him out on instagram at @kilogramstudio.

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