Fate can be strange.
Toronto-born architect Omar Gandhi can attest to that. Nearly a decade ago, what felt like an unfortunate string of hiccups in Gandhi’s career—a layoff and a position that was unexpectedly cut short—became the catalyst for opening his own firm. It isn’t overstating it to say Omar Gandhi Architect—which today has offices both in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in Toronto—was born largely out of desperation.
Gandhi, 38, who now splits his professional and personal life between those two Canadian cities, decided the healthiest thing to do was keep his nose to the grindstone. He took on a few small projects working from a home office. “I just tried to do the most I could with what I had,” he says, “and it snowballed from there.”
It certainly did: Cedar in Three Textures (2011) saw Gandhi expand upon a century-old single-family residence in Halifax. Shantih (2012), a vacation house that engages the lush landscape in a coastal town about two hours south of Halifax, is a study in “contrasting identities” that’s both “eerily mysterious” and “loud and bright.” Finally, Moore Studio (2012) is a 1,500-square-foot, two-story home located in a dense forest just outside Halifax. Designed specifically for two “new empty-nesters with dogs,” the house was built from the ground up, using off-the-shelf birch plywood and salvaged rusted steel so that “the project is quite homogeneous with the buildings surrounding it.”
Gandhi, not unlike Halifax architect Brian MacKay-Lyons, uses vernacular architecture as a starting point, drawing on familiar forms and materials and adapting them “formally, spatially, and programmatically to respond to simple things like daylight, the wind, and precipitation.” Beyond erratic weather patterns, Nova Scotia comes with its own set of challenges: budgets aren’t huge, and there aren’t that many people in the region with an interest in contemporary architecture. Gandhi doesn’t think of these as deterrents. “The best work comes from constraints,” he says. “They force you to tell a much richer story about places and people.”
That genuine interest in places and people goes a long way in explaining Gandhi’s versatile body of work. Currently, the Halifax office is concentrating on residential buildings (with one retail store thrown into the mix), while the Toronto studio is focused on two mixed-use mid-rise projects, a couple of restaurants, and various single-family residences in urban and rural environments.
“Ultimately, our process is about investigating and coming to understand each particular site,” he says, “and really getting to know the clients on a much deeper level.”
DESIGN STAFF: 5-8
PRINCIPALS: Omar Gandhi
EDUCATION: Dalhousie University, M.Arch., 2005; Dalhousie University, Bachelor of Environmental Design Studies, 2003; University of Toronto, B.A., 1998–2006
WORK HISTORY: MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, 2008–10; Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, 2007–08; Young + Wright Architects, 2005–07
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: The Lookout and Broad Cove Marsh, 2016; Cabot Links Villas, 2015 (both in Inverness, Nova Scotia)
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Jib House, Chester, Nova Scotia; Shaw Mann Residence, Shaw Island, Nova Scotia; Lady Marmalade Restaurant, Toronto; Lafayette Cottage, Carling Township, Ontario; 23 Buckingham, Toronto