Dryden series names Toronto architecture firm a Canadian changemaker

Alexander Josephson is one of the co-founders of Partisan.
Alexander Josephson is one of the co-founders of PARTISANS, a Toronto architecture and design firm that will be featured on the Ken Dryden CBC series We Are Canada on April 30. (2017 White Pine Pictures)

When you think of the changemakers shaping the future of the nation, you might think of scientists researching emerging sources of energy, or engineers developing new methods of transportation. But for some big thinkers, the architects of Canada’s future might actually be, well, architects.

“Architecture isn’t typically associated with innovation,” says designer Alex Josephson. “It’s usually in this limbo space between engineering and design. But we think we can help Canada become more sophisticated on many levels, by empowering people with great design.”

Josephson is one of the co-founders of PARTISANS, a Toronto architecture and design firm. With the constant development — and redevelopment — in the city, there’s no shortage of companies offering architectural services. But PARTISANS seems to be operating on a bit of a different level. So much so, the company was selected to be part of the CBC series We Are Canada, co-created by former NHL goaltender Ken Dryden.

“PARTISANS is a representation of quality not quantity. I think that’s true of Canada as well,” says Josephson, reflecting on one reason why their firm was considered for the program.

Josephson, co-founder Pooya Baktash, and Partisans partner Jonathan Friedman met through their shared studies at the University of Waterloo. Baktash is originally from Iran and Friedman is a native of South Africa. While their careers have taken them to different places over the years, Josephson says their varied backgrounds not only give them each a unique perspective on design, it also helps their company remain relevant and reflective of Canadian culture.

The PARTISANS team, all with various backgrounds and unique talents, are in the business of coming up with innovative and creative architecture and design ideas that stand out to Canadians.

“We all came together very organically,” Josephson says. “I think we’re also kind of a microcosm of Toronto. We have 12 nations represented by 16 people (at PARTISANS), which is expressive of the multiculturalism of the city.”

The six-year-old firm, whose offices are on the diverse and charismatic Geary Avenue, is also big on celebrating diversity in creativity, philosophy, even politics. Josephson says the name “PARTISANS” grew out of a commitment to sharing passionately held beliefs, in life and design.

“PARTISANS means we’re not yes men. We bring an ideology to our design.”

We Are Canada showcases young Canadians who are shaping the future of the country. Tying into the country’s 150th anniversary, the six-part documentary series, currently airing, is narrated by Sarah Polley and features 18 stories.

Bar Raval

Josephson says the team has done a few high-profile, highly creative projects that caught the attention of the CBC. From the smaller, organic curves of Bar Raval on College Street, to transforming the massive interior spaces of the old Hearn Generating Station into venues for the annual Luminato arts festival, the firm’s creative approach to design is on display. While the chance to have their unique style showcased to a national audience is a bonus, Josephson says they were thrilled to have the chance to learn something new.

“Anytime we can be involved in something different, it’s going to help us. I think (being on the show) gave us some insight into how creating a program works. It gave us a chance to learn a new skill.”

Finding new ways to communicate design ideas may serve Josephson and his colleagues well, as well as be good for the city. PARTISANS has dreamed up some unique concepts for existing structures in Toronto, such as a “carpet condo” that could sweep over an old power plant.

Affordable housing

While an amazing design can create an amazing space, Josephson also says massive construction projects aren’t the answer to Toronto’s affordable housing problem.

“Canadians need to become more considerate of design. We need to communicate to the public the importance of good architecture and design.”

Josephson says there isn’t one simple answer to the housing crunch, but a grassroots starting point is to make it easier for individual property owners to redevelop their spaces into places where more than one family can live. Josephson says when the “Average Joe” creates something special, it’s good for the whole community.

“Good design will save us. Small, personal projects are something people can take pride in.”

PARTISANS will be featured on Ken Dryden’s We Are Canada Sunday, April 30 at 7pm on CBC.

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