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Buildings with Faces

Toronto, ON

Friends of AAmp may be familiar with our studio’s ongoing fascination with buildings that resemble animal and human faces (there was a stint for a few years of photographing shingle-style buildings that looked like owls, for example). We find great delight in encountering these structures for the personality, humor and other expressive anthropomorphic qualities they convey.

More often than not, these unique facades do not seem intentional in design but result from an accidental overscaling or composition of elements. Amongst the sea of neutral buildings, you might notice these expressive elevations due to a severely symmetrical composition where a door is centered between two windows above, or when a bulky decorative lintel over two closely spaced windows appear to be eyebrows raised in surprise. We recently encountered such a building with some of these features in the Leslieville neighborhood of Toronto.

These unexpected punctuations of the facade encourage us to reflect on how we think about the elevation in design. Oftentimes, as designers our inclination is to work from the inside out, which results in an elevation that privileges the interior condition of a project. In approaching the question of the facade in this way, one might miss the opportunity to consider the figural or expressive nature of architecture, its inherent connection to the human condition and how the elevation may convey ideas that not only privilege the interior but express something inherent about its engagement in the public realm. Could an expressive building allow us to connect more directly with each other and convey the complexity of emotion that might unfold behind its walls?