Famous Canadian architect Omar Gandhi and his Halifax home

Making the most of the East Coast sunshine while maintaining his family’s privacy were top priorities for a prominent Canadian architect when he designed his own home.

Omar Gandhirecipient of the 2018 Governor General’s Medal in Architecture, took an “awkwardly cramped piece of land” in historic north Halifax, Nova Scotia, and turned it into the OG House — a place he describes as a “magical space.

“The pressure was not to design something cool, but rather to have no regrets for not having taken advantage of this opportunity”, explains Gandhi.

“I feel all the itch I needed to scratch on this project. I sort of went for it.

Using a natural light optimization study, Gandhi created privacy and interior light using skylights; a large skylight provides lighting from a roof skylight to the first floor living space.

The lower level of his 3,000 square foot home includes an office and space dedicated to neighborhood-focused community projects. The second floor includes the kitchen, dining room and living room. The third floor has two bedrooms, one with a window that opens to the skylight, and curves have been designed throughout, including the kitchen island and entry closets.

Local materials were used in the construction, including white and red cedar, white oak, brick, raw steel and recycled felt.

OG House, completed last year, took 3.5 years to design and build.

"In the kitchen you have both a curved island and a curved dining table.  In a slightly narrow space, it allows you to kind of zigzag and meander," said Gandhi.

Omar Gandhi, director of Omar Gandhi Architect in Toronto and Halifax, answers some questions about his home:

Hurricane Fiona hit Halifax and the Atlantic provinces just a few weeks ago. How did your home weather the storm?

Nothing was done (in the construction) specifically to prevent storm damage – having a lot of interior light from skylights meant we needed fewer windows on the facade. Other than that, there are few loose elements on the exterior as the house is made up of two large monolithic brick volumes connected by a very heavy brick wall.

We were very lucky.

The ground floor of OG House is an office and space for community projects.

Was it difficult to design your own house?

What made the process simple in some ways was that there were a lot of constraints, in terms of ownership. It was almost defined with shape and proportions by what was allowed by the statutes.

Thus, it became a veritable exercise in sculpting the interior, allowing for double-height spaces and opportunities to look down and up from different levels. It was a bit like working from the inside. It was meant to make the space magical.

What was the formula for placing your windows?

There is definitely a limit to the number of windows and the size of windows that can be used on the property line when it comes to fire regulations. For me, it was a bit about privacy – a bit of a quasi-cocoon having a ton of light coming from above.

It’s a bit mysterious because you can’t look from the outside in many ways, but it’s still a very bright and warm space inside.

How did you achieve privacy with the two large front windows?

The front windows are for the master bedroom and the kitchen. With those huge slats of red cedar wood, you actually get a huge amount of light through, but it’s very hard to look inside. This was to protect my privacy and that of my family, as well as that of people on the sidewalk or in the street.

What have been your biggest challenges?

Part of it was built during COVID and that made things a bit messy. I had thought about it for years, before doing it and after building and designing so many houses for other people. It was a special occasion to make one for my own family.

Skylights inside the house provide two levels of abundant natural light.

Did you break any architectural rules?

I used wooden exterior windows, and you don’t see people doing that anymore because it’s high maintenance. I used them just because I found them so beautiful. I knew I would be the one to take care of them in the end anyway.

Do you want to add or modify something?

After it was built, it took us a long time to be less valuable with it, especially with all the wood. It was actually designed to be an art house and as you can see in the pictures there isn’t much art. Wood is so beautiful in itself, that it’s ‘Do I want to do this?’ »

Georgie Binks is a Toronto-based writer and freelance contributor to The Star. Contact her at [email protected]


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