Last Tuesday, Bruce Kuwabara, a founding partner of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) Architects, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at U of T’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.

In many ways, it was a homecoming for Kuwabara, whose designs are now setting architectural trends around the world. He graduated from U of T in 1972, then went to work for the firm George Baird Architect-George Baird is now dean of the faculty of architecture-then joined Barton Myers Associates. Kuwabara established KPMB with his partners (Thom Payne, Marianne McKenna, and Shirley Blumberg) in 1987.

Kuwabara and his partners designed Woodsworth College in January 1992 in which they united three existing buildings-an 1891 Victorian residence, a 1947 Drill Hall and an Officer’s Mess-into one cohesive complex. KPMB also designed the renovated Munk Centre for International Studies.

It is the connection of the old and new, as Kuwabara states, that gives Toronto its plurality of aesthetics and adaptation. Clearly, Toronto is a constant connection between local and international. Toronto is adaptation, he said, looking for new interpretation.

Kuwabara opened his lecture with an anecdote that neatly set out the purpose of his talk. He had read an article in the Globe and Mail recently about the flight of Shaolin monks to Caledon, Ontario with the goal of building a monastery. Kuwabara said he was amazed by a comment by the leader of the monks. “He [the leader] had said that they wanted to come to Canada because ‘we can be ourselves more comfortably here than in the United States.’

“And that speaks to the fundamental condition,” said Kuwabara, “that Canadian psyche, and the sense of openness that Canadians are the only people surveyed-besides the Germans, the French, the Italians and the Americans-who are not afraid to do it. And I think that it’s remarkable. And I think that political conditions of our democracies are very, very unique and I think that what the world can learn a lot from is what people remark about Toronto when they come: that it’s just remarkable, and it coexists, which wasn’t there thirty years ago. I think it’s much more intense.”

KPMB’s new works include the Maple Leaf Lounge at Pearson Airport, the new Centennial College complex in Scarborough, a new look for Concordia University, the City of Vaughan’s City Hall, and a facelift for McMaster University’s Faculty of Mathematics.

Among the six new works Kuwabara explained insightfully in his lecture, three are educational institutions. Each new work delved into the concept of the loft.

The loft, said Kuwabara, is a metaphor for an office with high ceilings, open space and clean lines that demonstrates livability for the public realm. Concerned with space, arching atriums and canopies, emphasis on light and comfort, and sound inhibitors, KPMB’s concept of the loft creates an atmosphere beneficial for the public, both in mind and body. Simply stated, Kuwabara’s final thoughts ring true for all architecture in Toronto. “We’re dealing with a teenage city . . . architecture is about pleasure as well as the look, the feel. But most importantly, everything has to work well together.”