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A “Cultura Sunday” With Ja Architecture Studio

Over coffee at Forno Cultura, conversation flows at Ja’s regular weekend hangout with architects and designers

By Gregory Furgala
Photography by Riley Snelling

It happens every weekend. Led by Ja Architecture Studio’s partners Nima Javidi (far left) and Behnaz Assadi (second from the left), a rotating circle of architects, designers, colleagues and friends gather at Forno Cultura on Queen Street West – which they also designed – to discuss the finer points of, well, anything. Like the building, the conversation is lively and contains multitudes, offering Assadi and Javidi both creative inspiration and respite from the rigours of professional creative life – sometimes it becomes the kernel of a productive thought process, and at others it’s just a welcome tonic. As Assadi says, “Fun trumps everything, because if it wasn’t fun, nobody would come.”

Designlines joined them at a recent, pre-isolation gathering where, over coffee and pastries, we chatted about how the informal event started, uncovering history while building and what architecture and design culture can learn from the food scene.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity

ja architecture

Designlines: So why did you start hanging out at Forno Cultura?

Nima Javidi: We liked it, and we also felt that it was a place that was done by an architect. It reminded me of architecture school, and not so much architecture that you see outside. You sometimes see students building things for themselves – there’s something real about it. When colleagues visit to lecture – if you go to too fancy of a place, it’s too much, but Forno was always the right dose of everything. That was the feeling inside Forno that we loved so much – and the pastries, of course.

So we started going as Ja, then we met friends every week, and we were also loud. At some point, they complimented us and said, ‘When you guys come, we get more customers.’ But this was a time when our loudness was manageable. Right now, I think they lose customers because of how loud we are, but they’re too polite to tell us!

Behnaz Assadi: I always call it Cultura Sunday, or Cultura Saturday, so that it becomes a thing. People will ask, “What are we doing on Cultura Sunday?” or, “How come we weren’t invited to Cultura Saturday?” One time, I was trying to put together a video from Instagram posts for [Nima’s] birthday, and it was all Cultura!

Tell me a little about your approach to this space – what was the ask, and what was your vision for it?

NJ: We wanted to keep the original feel of Forno, so we asked ourselves how we could re-make the King Street project but with some of the forms that we like. When we started doing things to the original building, we found that, before all of this, it was a mechanic’s shop, and there were also leftovers of a house. It was amazing how different pieces of urban fabric found themselves here. So we kept the size of the original [garage] openings for windows, and if you look outside, they’re slightly off. And where they meet the barrel vault, the first one has a kink – like a fold in the middle – because it’s higher than the others. There are little references to the past, but we didn’t want it to be too much.

Is there a role can critics play in architecture and design?

BA: One of things I like about some architecture magazines, is that when someone writes something negative, someone else will respond, and that becomes a conversation that goes back and forth through different issues of the magazine, but it rarely happens here. It’s usually just a review, a one-time thing with no response, and that review is usually just positive.

NJ: I’m very jealous of the food scene for a couple reasons. one, food shows; two, reviews. It has become an intellectual thing that people benefit from and are serious about. That whole culture, the whole food scene has changed. It used to be only Michelin Star restaurants that were “good.” but now that’s just one level. Now we have restaurants opening in Toronto, and they have a concept – like an architect has a concept – of food, vibe, and all of that. They open it, and people come and review it. That circle of public presentation and people coming and being serious about it, even trashing it, that circle matters.


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