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The Modern Reinventionist: Larry Wayne Richards

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Fifteen years ago, Larry Wayne Richards was in the early years of his deanship at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. There, he launched an ambitious campaign of fundraising, hiring and expansion when he unveiled Graduate House, at the corner of Harbord Street and Spadina Avenue. The winner of a design competition that Richards helped initiate and guide, Thom Mayne and Stephen Teeple’s heroic statement piece, with its bold form and cantilevered sign, was polarizing at the time, but today it is recognized as a daring landmark. Richards now fosters daring architecture underground – in his role as creative director of the WORKshop Inc. gallery and design incubator on the lower concourse of 80 Bloor Street West.

Mainly devoted to product design, WORKshop maintains a deep connection to architecture. “Urban design, architecture and product design are all about problem solving and efficiency,” Richards says. “But the results must also be culturally meaningful and beautiful.” One of the perennial puzzles architects explore is how we will live in the future. To answer that quandary, Richards coordinated House 2020, a recent student competition exhibit that unleashed marvellous ideas for a 250- to 400-square-metre suburban “smart home.” The winning project may even be realized somewhere in the GTA by 2020. “That would be the ultimate rollout,” he explains.

Richards is just as excited about other happenings at WORKshop. Guided by the interests of its owner – Hong Kong entrepreneur Kin Yeung, founder of the high-end Blanc de Chine clothing line – the space opened in 2010 with a focus on Chinese design history, especially where it dovetails with the Toronto design scene’s mutual love of carpentry. But WORKshop’s ramped-up retail section is now kitted out with rare and beautiful finds from around the world: carpets depicting urban and rural geographies by Shanghai-based Four O Nine, carved-wood clutch bags by Tel Aviv-Yafo’s Tesler + Mendelovitch, and a clothes hanger made of fused hockey sticks by Toronto’s Urbanproduct Studio. The next big thing: a collection of wearable technologies, including prototypes of life-hacking accessories developed in house and displayed at the gallery’s new Smart Bar, which includes a 3-D printer. WORKshop keeps on innovating – just like its creative director.

Featured as one of our breakout talents of 2015. Originally published in our Spring 2015 issue.

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