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A 2500 square foot house for a retired couple who have an excellent collection of non-figurative art. This collection, which includes paintings, works on paper and sculpture, was to be located throughout the house. The site is located at a high point in Rockland, an old neighbourhood of very large houses dating from the 1890’s, the lot is an irregularly shaped mound of rock, with a frontage of only 33 feet, “left over” in the subdivision of a large estate. There is a beautiful distant view of the ocean to the east. Unfortunately, due to the subdivision development, the immediate overlook of the site in this direction is of a number of newly built “spec” houses of indifferent quality.

Awards

1988 – Honour Award, Architectural Institute of British Columbia
1984 – Governor General’s Medal in Architecture
1984 – Canadian Architect Award of Excellence

Intention: Given the undesirable visual characteristics of the neighbouring houses it was decided that the site should be developed in such a way that the immediate context would be screened without losing the distant view of the ocean. The aesthetic predilection of the client for the abstract, combined with the bold scale of the primordial rock of the site, suggested that the massing of the house, while remaining domestic in scale, should be restricted to a few elemental gestures The display of paintings placed a premium on large areas of unbroken wall space so that the amount of window area was necessarily limited. In a climate which is frequently overcast this meant that windows (and skylights) must be carefully designed and located to maximize the luminousity within the house.

Design: The essential character of the house was established in a single stroke by siting the dominant space of the house, the living room, to the west, below the peak of the rock mound. In so doing, the immediate context of neighbouring houses to the east was screened, while the distant view of the ocean was framed as a fragment of some perfect landscape, defining a highly abstract terrace of rock and sky. Once the living room was located, the other spaces of the house were simply wrapped around the adjacent sides of the terrace, with ancillary spaces filling in the low areas of the site below the main level (the garage andservice rooms below the living room area and the guest suite below the den area). The physical dimension of the site (the house is to the set-back limit on three sides) in conjunction with our site planning objectives made a regular plan impossible. Yet, given the almost ad hoc connection of room to room en filade we have tried to make each room feel regular in itself so that an aura of reflective calm characterizes the house The massing of the house was intended to reinforce the basic organization of the plan and its relationship to the site: A constant parapet line was established against which the highly variable contours of the site can be clearly measured. Surmounting this constant reference line the dominant volume of the living room was raised in the form of a chisel-pointed copper roof. Two largely disengaged chimneys counter-balance the volume of the living room roof. At the same time, these chimneys terminate the mass of the house and mark the distant view of the ocean beyond the terrace.

To maximize the luminousity within the house, while maintaining a limited amount of window area, light has been introduced from skylight sources in critical locations. More importantly, the windows are designed in conjunction with a variety of mill-work items (bookcases, china and clothing storage, or simply deep casements) so that the quality of light coming through the windows is amplified by the reflected light of the adjacent surfaces. Further, all finishes and colours which receive this light have been selected to enhance the ambient luminousity of the house.