Altius Architecture Inc.

Where the Idea of Master Builder Comes Back into the House

The founding partners of Altius met during their architectural studies in the 1990’s. In 1998, they founded Altius Architecture Inc. on beliefs not embraced by the architectural practice at the time. The ideal for the company has been the collective vision for re-establishing the tradition of the architect as the central figure in the building process — the idea of the Master Builder. The company believes that without the involvement of the architect at all levels of the building process, creating modern, sustainable, livable, contextual, economical and beautiful building is not a sensible enterprise.

Graham Smith, Partner at Altius Architecture Inc., told The Canadian Business Journal, “When doing residential work, the traditional way of building homes is to have an architect [actually there may not even be an architect in some cases], and the general contractor, and the only way of communication between the two is whatever is on the drawings. However, the drawings are a limited representation of the building project. Altius actually came about as a general contractor who just happens to have an architectural background, so we work as a single entity designing and building the projects, creating a very hands-on approach — an approach that has been largely abandoned in the latter half of the 20th century.”

Toronto-based Altius Architecture Inc. focuses on the residential market, providing clients with clean, contemporary designs, emphasizing craftsmanship and materiality. Altius projects are known in Southern Ontario for sensitivity to the surroundings of the building site, thoughtful interiors and innovative and sustainable designs. Altius creates unique architecture through understanding their clients and through responding to clients’ need. Close attention to detail and a client-driven design produce projects that are as unique as their owners.

The company focuses on modern projects, combating the status quo of the East Coast architectural lethargy. Smith said, “Ontario seems to suffer from British colonial hangover. This is mostly because people [architects] build what they know, and most people in Toronto grew up in pre-Second World War housing.

This housing was built on colonial models, such as the Victorian townhouse; however, this British housing aesthetic has never really been responsive to the Canadian environment. For example, in comparison, Canadian weather is much more severe than the one of the British Islands. That’s why when we design a house for the North American climate, we are looking towards more North American style that had developed in the west of the country — the so-called West Coast Modern architecture, because this architecture is more suited and responsive to our climate. Interestingly enough, no such style had developed in Eastern Canada and the region still sticks to the colonial, so we work to fill this void of responsive architectural design.”

For Altius, ‘modern’ does not mean just modern design, but also a modern lifestyle. “Our clients want open concept plans, big expanses of glass, they want to be able to experience the outdoor spaces around them, and they want spaces that are more responsive to the way we live, more energy efficient and more in tune with the environment — this is what makes these projects modern. While our projects are very modern, they are also very sustainable, as we design them to respond to their particular environments. This is how our projects take on a modern look — because they are responding to their building sites.”

The idea of comfort is coming back into the discussion when it comes to architecture, and modern mechanical systems allow for increased comfort in these modern houses. “For example, traditional houses have single climate control, while even cars have a dual climate control today. So we are seeing new systems coming into the market, such as geothermal systems, modern radiant in-floor systems, multi-zone heating/AC systems, humidity and fresh air return systems, and so on; and our clients are moving towards these more advanced systems. As far as design goes, there are currently very few who can incorporate these systems into designs and Altius is one of the companies that has the know-how.”

Altius serves its clients as an architect and as the construction manager, in order to execute projects according to designs and as desired by the client. To the topic of divide between the architect, owner and contractor Smith said, “We work exclusively for the client and on clients’ behalf. As construction managers we are bidding competitively on all aspects of the projects, so we get competitive bids on material and labour supply, and we present these bids to the clients, advising them on the advantages or disadvantages of each bid. Further, we oversee all contract work in an open and transparent process, informing clients on all purchases and expenses. This approach completely eliminates the potential for mistrust in the financial matters away from the building process.”

Focusing on building urban and rural residential properties and cottage projects, Altius Architects Inc. represents a breath of fresh air to the tired architecture of Southern Ontario. The company executes between 30 to 40 projects each year, providing clients with modern designs and modern technologies, creating comfortable and original homes for Canadians.