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Omar Gandhi: a Notable Young Canadian Architect

I am a proud supporter of Dalhousie School of Architecture as quite a few bright young architects have emerged from Dalhousie including Omar Gandhi. MICHELLE PHILLIPS has written this month’s blog post highlighting Omar and his architectural work.

Omar Gandhi is a notable young Canadian architect who is responsible for contemporizing many building forms and redefining the aesthetic of Canada’s east coast. Despite his works being primarily located on the east coast, and unlike many east coast architects who are responsible for some of the regionally inspired work that preceded him, he is not from that area. Gandhi grew up in Brampton, Ontario and then went on to study architecture at University of Toronto. He progressed to Dalhousie University to complete his Masters, arriving with an innovative perspective and deep appreciation for the regional vernacular. 

Gandhi’s work has been heavily influenced by the distinct rural east coast landscapes and displays a high sensitivity to its natural surroundings. Gandhi has demonstrated an aptitude for working with a diverse set of site dynamics and then accentuating the natural characteristics unique to each site. Interestingly, budget constraints had been a key reason to leave materials in their original form with a more unfinished look. Though at times unintended, this more truthful use of raw materials in their natural form has become a crucial feature to his work.  

Gandhi founded his architecture practice, Omar Gandhi Architect, in 2010, and in only ten years as a principal he has already achieved significant success. One notable accomplishment is receiving the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture for his Rabbit Snare Gorge house in Cape Breton. In 2016, he expanded his practice and opened a satellite office in Parkdale, a Toronto neighbourhood where he has diversified his projects into more urban settings. In Toronto he has begun work on mixed-use projects while remaining primarily focused on residential projects in Halifax. As Gandhi’s work expands beyond his east coast roots and through Canada his focus on regional influences across the country will be exciting to observe.  


Rabbit Snare Gorge Home in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

The Rabbit Snare Gorge Home provided Gandhi with his first Governor General’s Medal along with other recognized Canadian architects. It sits on over 40 acres within the landscape of the Cape Breton Highlands comprising steep slopes, woods, gorges and rocky cliffs. The cabin is a modified gabled tower that is stretched vertically and reaches above the tree canopy with two distinct viewing decks, one facing the ocean and the other facing the valley. The entry is made of steel and it wraps the front door to protect it from the aggressive winds and pay homage to other homes in the area. The alteration of the traditional gable structure––opening it and emphasizing views––accentuates the natural environment. Consideration for the landscape was a key design factor due to the owners’ high sensitivity to ecological disruption. This also played out through the vertical nature of the structure, which minimized the building’s footprint. The site is exposed to intense storms, winds that exceed 200km/hr, and ocean salt spray that require that the home withstand these loads through extra structural measures.  


Sluice Point Home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia 

Sluice Point is located in a forested area looking on to marshlands of the Tusket River on the southern tip of Nova Scotia. The building was inspired by the local Acadian saltwater haystacks that were previously used to store hay on marshes to elevate them from flooding. The entryway door is a key design feature because it is vertical and compressed, in contrast to the expansive, breathtaking, panoramic views that you see once you enter the home. The area has a handful of small, traditional cottages and few new buildings which necessitated being respectful of the community in the home’s design. As a result, the structure was designed to be a low, long, horizontal building with natural materials to blend into the landscape. To make the building robust and low maintenance, a consistent colour scheme of natural and raw materials, including concrete and local wood, were used.

Float in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Float residence was inspired by a glacial by-product referred to as “float”––loose pieces of rock that have been moved by a glacier and are deposited and scattered amidst the landscape. The house sits on the exposed rock in a previously forested site that was damaged by a wildfire that had left charred trees around the perimeter. The house was designed for functional multi-generational living between parents and adult children. There is a central zone used for daily living that is sandwiched by two separate sleeping zones. The interior materials used mimic the surrounding landscape with dark greys, white walls and a concrete floor. The exterior is made up of grey wood cladding that resembles the bedrock strata with slight variations.

Lady Marmalade in Toronto, Ontario

Lady Marmalade is an established Toronto brunch spot on Broadview Avenue in the South Riverdale neighbourhood.  Omar Gandhi, in partnership with SvN, designed and renovated the restaurant to retain the original character of the exterior building, specifically the brick. The renovation involved opening up the storefront window to allow a clear view into the restaurant’s bright interior, transforming the long, narrow, dark building into a warm space to enjoy food. There are multiple nods to the previous building with exposed beams, a compressed entry and an open kitchen where patrons can see the activity clearly. One of the most notable design features is the Baltic birch that is consistent throughout the restaurant and not only finishes the walls but flows down to form a banquette and a coffee bar. This renovation has kept the charm of the original building elements while updating it to establish itself as a contemporary brunch destination.