Toronto is home to a score of amazing architectural feats. There’s the striking, contentious Crystal addition which juts out onto the street from the Royal Ontario Museum; the glass palace that is the Globe & Mail Centre; and, of course, the iconic CN Tower.
With so many massive structures, it’s easy to forget this modest entry in modern architecture: the cube house on Sumach St.
Designed by architect Ben Kutner in 1996, the Unitri cubes may be the most unique home in Toronto. And though it’s not as big as the ROM or the G&M, it’s hard to miss it.
The home is sandwiched between two on/off ramps between Adelaide and Eastern Avenue, greeting drivers heading to and from the Don Valley Parkway. Though originally intended as a three-condo unit, it has gradually transformed into a house-billboard hybrid.
Each cube is 42 feet by 42 feet and divided into three separate floors, which adds up to over 9,000 square feet of living space. Though they have few windows, the cubes get enough natural light to grow house plants inside.
Kutner based his idea on Rotterdam’s famous Cubic Houses. The cubes are designed to be the versatile and affordable modular homes of the future. They can be erected in weeks and arranged complex residential or commercial units. They can also fit in areas where there’s no room to build a traditional house. Kutner calls them, “Meccano on steroids.”
Of course, the cubes didn’t catch on like their Dutch inspiration did. Kutner never got around to building more cube homes, and they didn’t exactly lead the way to the future of architecture. But that just makes the Toronto prototype all the more special.
CBC video producer Martin Trainor calls the cube house home for fifteen years. “I choose to live here because it’s unique”, he says. “It’s a great architectural masterpiece, if you ask me.”
Unfortunately, these cute little cubes face an uncertain future. Last fall, the owner of the property placed the entire lot up for sale – cube home and all.
It’s not surprising, given how the value of the land has soared in the past decade. Since the cubes are just over twenty years old, it’s unlikely they could get protection as heritage properties. What happens to the Unitri cubes will be up to whoever buys the property.
Sure, not everyone wants to live in a forest-green cube with billboards plastered to the side. But there’s no shortage of identical suburban townhomes out there for plain, ordinary folk to snap up. There’s only one Unitri cube in all the world!
Building are part of what make the city what it is. Let’s hope the eventual buyer will help keep this spark alive.