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Toronto, Canada

Ace opens its first outpost in Canada, with Toronto's Garment District now endowed with a hotel that features its signature blend of urban vibes and local art and crafts

US hotel group Ace is well known for turning interesting 20th-century buildings into must-visit hotspots: its Downtown LA outpost occupies an ornate 1920s former theatre that once belonged to United Artists, while in Kyoto, Kengo Kuma transformed a former telephone office with his crafted Japanese minimalism.

The new ace in the pack, though, is a little different: in Toronto, Shim-Sutcliffe Architects had a blank canvas to play with, with a completely new build. The opening of an Ace usually marks the point that a neighbourhood has well and truly made it, and Toronto’s Garment District is no exception, with its condos, media HQs and a youthful feel.

Thanks to the talents of its architects, the building feels as grounded and of-its-place than any other Ace, however. The red-brick exterior pays its respects to the warehouses that once characterised the locale (many of which have sadly been lost), and there is similar rhythm and robustness in the building’s 14-storey form. It stands out against the condos and office blocks that now populate the district, described as “a statement of resistance against recent thin and glassy developments in the area.”

The facade’s defining feature is the undulating ribbon of steel and Douglas fir that rises up to frame the hotel’s entrance, the shape of which is echoed inside in the form of a series of dramatic board-marked concrete arches running the length of the lobby lounge.

As with all Ace hotels, the place aims to welcome locals and visitors alike, being described as a “civic space” rather than mere hotel, with the lobby being one of the most well-used areas – from coffee-mainlining nomadic workers by day, followed by the after-work cocktail crowd and weekend late-night revellers. The bar sits in a mezzanine suspended within the space, bringing drinkers closer to the tops of those soaring concrete arches.

The interiors are the work of the architects alongside Atelier Ace, the hotel group’s in-house design team, and has that mix of utility and subtle glamour that Ace does so well, with plenty of bespoke pieces such as the kite-like pendant lights in the lobby designed by Shim-Sutcliffe. The 123 guest rooms are described as being “evocative of the comforting pleasures of a wilderness cabin retreat only set within the city” with a palette of canvas and timber, alongside custom and vintage furnishings. Ontario textile studio Eeuwes created the cushions for each room’s boxy window seat.

The original artwork includes Horizon Line, a three-storey installation by Howard A Sutcliffe, which fills the end wall of the lobby, a tessellation of plywood pieces intended to emulate the sparkling waters of nearby Lake Ontario. Sculptures by Montreal’s David Umemota pepper the public areas, including the rooftop bar, while guest rooms feature a series of works called Poems From Home, with each art piece incorporating a poem from around the world, inspired by the city’s diverse melting-pot of a population.

Ace has scored something of a coup in getting Shim-Sutcliffe to design this building (a practice that in the past has favoured residential projects for private clients), with Atelier Ace adding that defining local vibe with the interiors. It means that the considered architecture that was previously only experienced by the few can now be enjoyed by the many, whether they are locals or just passing through.