Category Archives: Environment

An Architect’s Bucket List

Of all the places in the world which would you visit? Remember life is short, which is why many of us have some sort of “Bucket List” (things to do or see before we die). So what sort of wonderful things would an architect want to check off the list? We took this question to our office in hopes of creating An Architect’s Bucket List.

The Fallas Festival

With a passion for public art and community festivals it’s no surprise that Lisa has The Fallas Festival is on her list. The Spanish know how to party and this annual festival is no exception. Throughout the month of March the city of Valencia, Spain celebrates fire, with the main event being the culmination of the burning of massive papier-mâché sculptures that are erected around the city in public squares. The sculptures reflect contemporary issues in local politics and society and the annual construction and destruction of these sculptures are said to be a cathartic release from the mundane. http://www.fallasfromvalencia.com

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Green SchoolLisa also plans to visit Bali, Indonesia, which is home to Green School. Not only does Green School integrate academics with green sustainable living, but also offers stunning architecture built primarily from bamboo. The school’s campus was designed by PT Bambu and completed in 2007. The facility creates a truly artful community of buildings that evokes the essence of sustainability. http://www.greenschool.org

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Falling Water

Not to surprisingly Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water made someone’s Bucket List. Matt says “You can’t call yourself an architect without having visited this modern masterpiece.” Completed in 1938 in Pennsylvania (southeast of Pittsburg), the residence was built partially over a waterfall and was a family vacation home until 1963, when it was entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is now open to the public for viewing. http://www.fallingwater.org

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Croatia wouldn’t be seen on too many Bucket Lists, but Matt longs to explore the town of Dubrovnik on the Southern Dalmatian coast.  “The images of the ancient medieval fort town of Dubrovnik, with its orange tile roofs, its apparent freedom of form, has captured my imagination ever since I was young” Matt says. Dubrovnik became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th century and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1979. Judging by the pictures, it is easy to see why.

Dubrovnik

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La Sagrada Familia

Who says less is more? At La Sagrada Familia it’s about the details, and more details. Oh, yes! It’s gaudy, literally. Designed by Antoni Gaudi this cathedral in Barcelona, Spain is a site Trena has to visit, but preferably after 2026. That is when the 144 years of construction is scheduled to be complete. Yes, construction began in 1882 and has been ongoing ever since, with a few pauses. It is all really quite fascinating. Watch the many years of construction here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcDmloG3tXU

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Giza

We have all seen them in the movies and studied them in school, the Pyramids of Giza are probably on many people’s Bucket list and Trena is one of them. “Since I was in elementary school and learned about the pharaohs, mummies, stolen treasures and theories of how the pyramids where built, I have wanted to visit Giza. It seems all so mystical” Trena says. The Great Pyramid is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, after all.

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John has already crossed many overseas destinations off his list and desires to see more of our own country. John says “It would be wonderful to experience the landscapes that really ARE Canada. I’ve been to most provinces, but only to their cities and provincial capitals. Getting time to visit the Territories, and their amazing landscapes would help complete my bucket list.” John believes as architects “We would be so much better in our understanding of our environment and World if we paid as much attention to the landscapes as we did the buildings.”

Canadian Landscape

Here is the list, in the order they are written above:

1. Green School in Bali, Indonesia

2. The Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain

3. Falling Water in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, USA

4. The town of Dubrovnik, Croatia

5. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

6. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

7. The Canadian Landscape, Canada

Tell us what amazing destinations are on your Bucket List!  Reply below. 

A Greener, Cheaper Home

IMG_8272With utility costs, pollution, and water consumption on the continuous rise, the task to improve the environment and lower utilities costs is often on the minds of many homeowners. While a net zero home may not be an option for everyone, there are some simple improvements and upgrades you can make to achieve a greener, cheaper home at any price point.

Rainwater Barrel

Rainwater Barrel

Rainwater Barrels – Collect free water using a rainwater barrel. At an average cost of $100, a barrel will pay for itself in 5 years, saving you about $20 a year on your water and sewer costs, depending on the size you select. Rainwater has many uses including, plant and grass watering, car and window cleaning, and all sorts of other outdoor jobs and cleanups. Many municipalities offer rainwater barrels at a discounted price during certain times of the year, so keep an eye out.

Low-Flow Toilets – In an average home more than 30% of the water consumption is literally flushed down the toilet. Today’s more modern, low-flow toilets use less than 5L of water per flush, while their older counterparts need 13L per flush on average, using unnecessary water while hiking up your bill. A good low-flow toilet will run you about $250, but will save you $100 per year on your water bill, making the investment well worth while, returning your investment in 2.5 years.

Low-flow Faucets and Shower Heads – Easily cut bathing water consumption by 50 to 70% by switching out shower heads and sink faucets. A low-flow shower head or faucet rang in price from $60 to $300 depending on make and style. By upgrading these fixtures throughout your house you will see a noticeable decrease in your bill.

Programable Thermostat – Having better control of your indoor temperature can save you a lot a cash. With the average family home saving $150 per year by decreasing/increasing the temperature at night and during the day (when no one is home). A good programable thermostat will cost roughly $75 – $150. They are easy to install and can allow you to program the temperature several times throughout the day, 7 days a week. Returning the initial investment usually within one year or less.

Energy Star Logo

Energy Star Logo

Energy Star Appliance – With appliances efficiency is key. High efficiency products help reduce greenhouse gases and lower you energy bill. There is a lot of information on Energy Star products, so do a little research before heading to the store. Be sure to purchase products with the Energy Star logo (the international symbol for energy efficiency. Here are the best rated Energy Star appliances of 2013.

http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/energystar/1868

Power Strip/Bar with Switch – For about $7 -$15 you can pick up a power bar with an on/off switch, allowing you to plug in any number of items. By turning the power bar off you cut down on stand by power or “vampier power”. Stand by power accounts for 5 – 10% of electrical use in a typical residential home, as many electronics continue to use energy even when the devices is turned “off”. For more information on reducing stand by power visit:  http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/equipment/manufacturers/17201

Residential Solar Roof

Residential Solar Roof

Solar Energy Systems – Yes, the initial cost of solar is hefty, anywhere from $10,000 to $45,000 for the solar panels, system, installation and connection to your local grid, depending on the size of your home and energy needs. This investment can be offset by a monthly cheque from your local hydro company by participating in the Ontario microFIT-income program. http://microfit.powerauthority.on.ca/about-microfit This programs allows hydro companies to buy clean renewable energy from home owners with excess kilowatt hours (kWh). Homeowner’s with a rooftop solar system will receive a cost per kWh for every kWh that is sold to the grid. By participating in this program the system will paying for itself in an estimated 9 to 10 years, not too bad considering you will be producing your home with your own clean renewable energy as well. 

Whether you plan for a complete home renovation or just some simple around the house improvements, incoporating a few of these features into any project will create a cheaper home. With that you can feel good about helping to improve our environment with your greener home. 

Moving Back to the City; The Urban Living Trend

The suburbs became the epitome of the ‘Canadian Dream’ following World War 2, as couples desired settling down,  more privacy, and raising children in safe, quite neighbourhoods. Then came the Baby Boomers; wanting to create much of the same lifestyle as their parents, the suburbs thrived through the 60’s and 70’s as large homes and modern cars became status symbols. Today things are starting to change, with raising gas prices, long commute times and a growing awareness of environmental issues, people are saying no to suburbia and are moving back to the city.

Echo Boomers, Generation Y, Millennials, or whatever you like to call them; the children of the Baby Boomers have historically tried to separate themselves from their parents and their new lifestyle choice is no different. Moving to the cities Echo Boomers are a major contributor to this migration trend and are helping create this new lifestyle norm. Growing up in the suburbs this generation is opting to live close to work, restaurants and entertainment; abandoning the car and saving on time and gas costs. This urban lifestyle is about walking, biking and public transit (they aren’t call Echo Boomers for nothing). This generation doesn’t see the need for large half empty homes, lawns that need constant maintenance, or having to drive to the corner store, instead the desire is to be centrally located. According to Statistics Canada the density in large Canadian cities grew an average of 126.26 people per square kilometer from 2006 to 2011, topping the charts where Vancouver who’s density increased by 210 people per square kilometer and Toronto, increasing by 177.1 people p/ sq.km. It’s all about location and the most sought after are becoming those within the city.

Despite Generation Y’s quest to separate themselves from their parents, Baby Boomers are following the initiative of their children and making the move  themselves. As Baby Boomers approach retirement they are realizing their large, empty homes require too much maintenance, and the family vehicle continues to cost more and more to drive. Many Baby Boomers are seeking homes that better suite their lifestyle; hunting for smaller home which require little or no maintenance, are in close proximity to all amenities, contain a sense of community and can easily be locked up when traveling. Downtown condos are becoming a popular choice, offering Baby Boomers the lifestyle they are looking for. With so many people now competing for the same properties, prices are on the raise.

Together these two large groups are creating quite a lifestyle tend, raising property values in cities and increasing the number of high rise condos being building. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing annual report; a record of 27,504 new condo unites where under construction in the city of Toronto at the end of 2011, increasing the city’s total number of condo units to 199,000. Will this urban living trend redefine the ‘Canadian Dream’? What does this mean for our cities, suburbs, transportation modes, property values, and environment? Change is inevitable and it seems we are about to whiteness the next big lifestyle shift; what the outcome will be, only time will tell.

Future Toronto Condo sites. Photo from condo-living-west.com

Our House Reno has Turned Purple

Spray Insulation to Seal the top of the Foundation Wall

Our house renovation is coming along, albeit more slowly than we’d hoped. We’ve had such a busy August and September with our clients’ projects, we’ve hardly had time to attend to our own: our ongoing house renewal and renovation.

After stripping the house to its bare essentials (structure really, and not much else) we’ve spent the summer reframing and altering the building to its new configuration. Then came the windows, the plumbing and electrical rough-ins, now substantially done. So now we head into insulating and vapour barriers.

That’s why whole parts of the house are now grape purple.

This post is about the decisions we’ve made regarding sealing and insulating the house. There’s a whole variety of issues and interrelated aspects to that, so I’ll try to set them out.

First of all, we’ve got the climate to assess. Kitchener swings from over 30 degrees celsius in the height of summer to the occasional -20 winter day, with a fairly long winter heating season. The bill for heating the house is going to depend a lot on what we do under its steeply pitched roof, and how we handle sealing up the house.

One of our big design decisions was to use as much space in the small house as possible, as wisely as possible. That meant finishing the basement with some amenity, and turning the steep pitched roof areas of the second floor into a rear addition and a front set of closets and storage. that meant basement insulation and finishing, and lots of cathedral ceiling. Both situations mean careful attention to sealing and insulating are a necessity.

Insulated Exterior Sheathing with Reflective Skin

In order to ensure fuller and complete insulation, and to meet wall insulating standards while using the existing 2 by 4 walls, we removed all the old siding (both the aluminum and the older wood siding) and have sheathed the entire outside of the walls with 3/4 of an inch of isocyanurate sheathing board. We’ve taped all the joints (that’s that red tape in the photos) to create an air barrier, and we’ll be sealing any holes in this first layer of insulation (around windows and doors, for instance)  to create a good start to our envelope.

Energy gains and losses in buildings work on the basis of radiation (direct rays of radiation from hotter masses to colder masses), convection (air movement conveying the energy) and conduction (the slow, or not so slow, passage of heat along a path from hot to cold).

The reflective silvered skins on our exterior layer of insulating sheathing help to reflect radiation back onto its source. It keeps the hot surfaces and cold surfaces apart, so that’s how we help close the radiation path.

Then, we seal the building as best we can, using a combination of spray insulation and plastic vapour barrier. That’s critical, because our house is much like a hot air balloon. Since hot air rises, the winter months create a situation where the top of the house is pressurized relative to the colder exterior environment. If we allow air to escape from this envelope at the top, and enter in the basement at the bottom, we create a conveyor of energy from inside to out. That’s how old leaky houses work (and new, poorly built ones). Worse still, that warm air contains more water vapour. When the air escapes the house envelope, it cools. With the change in temperature, it has to condense some of that vapour into water (because cooler air can’t hold as much moisture). This leads to ice buildup in the upper walls and roof assemblies. That leads to damage, and even worse thermal performance. Its not a good situation.

So the vapour and air barriers are key, and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to turn the house purple.

Spray Insulation to the Rafter Areas

Well, not really purple. It’s just that the spray urethane insulation we’ve had applied comes in that colour (at lease the BASF product does). Because we’ve got so much cathedral ceiling to apply to existing rafters, the choice of spray insulation, with its complete seal and high insulating value, was a relatively easy one. It’s more expensive than traditional fibreglas batt and plastic vapour barrier, but we can get the insulating value we need in only 5 inches or so (at R-7 per inch) rather than the 10 inches that would be needed with batts. That means more space in our second floor for living.

Before spraying the underside of our roof, we install continuous vent forms between the rafters. These connect the eaves and the ridge attic, allowing air to flow just under the shingles (but outside the insulated and sealed envelope). This keeps the shingles cooler in summer, to protect against shingle curl.

Once the decision was made to spray (and in fact part of that assessment) we got a great bonus. We were able to spray the top of the foundation wall and ground floor framing, and the second floor intersection, to stop air transfer at the house perimeter. With positive pressure to the top of the house (from that hot air rises thing) comes negative pressure in the basement. To stop the ingress of air from that negative pressure, spray insulation is a great choice. For older houses, even better.

So we’re in the middle of the insulating exercise, but well on our way to a well-sealed, well-insulated envelope that will pay big dividends down the road. More comfort, and lower utility bills. A bit of trouble and expense, but really it’s a win-win.

Mill Woods Aurora

Recently our firm submitted a design for the Edmonton Park Pavilion Design Competition. Intended to promote design excellence and as part of the City of Edmonton’s commitment to “cutting edge” quality design, and ensuring that such a level of design and innovation is brought to all civic buildings, the competition was a fun way for our firm to work together to generate exciting ideas are outside the scope of our everyday work.

Our Design:

The Mill Woods Aurora Pavilion is a dance of the spirit for the many streams of culture and activity that traverse the Mill Woods community and its major public park. It engages the broadest range of visitors and passersby, as much in snowbound winter evening as warm summer day. It guides accessibility, new uses, casual meeting, and cultural connection, in addition to enhancing the existing park landscape and supporting its organized activities. It will enrich the exploration and celebration of cultural memory, volunteerism, achievement, and future possibilities across diverse heritage traditions. It provides an interactive beacon for Mill Woods’ vibrant and sustainable future.

The Design Addresses the Following Community, Urban, and Architectural Issues

Design Rationale

Rather than concentrating the design of place and shared experience to the building interior or ground plane, in an annualized landscape that is as dark and snow-covered as it is warm and verdant, we wish to offer architectural experiences and possibilities as users move freely through the Community, the Park and the design. The Pavilion will communicate strongly through all seasons, in the night environment, through many media and senses, and to the park as a whole. We believe the role of the Park and Pavilion is to engage the community and passerby as much as the active user, and we have organized the design to support this idea.

We wish to:

  • Create a sense of place that celebrates passage and journey, movement and light;
  • Design for potential ease of construction and use should the Pavilion be phased;
  • Foster a common experience of connection, of wonder, and of possibility;
  • Engage the community’s creativity and the diverse cultural and activity streams of its citizens in architectural experiences that invite exploration, touch, and further contribution to an evolving history for the Pavilion and Park.
Description of the Design and Its Achievement of Edmonton Design Committee Principles
 A Universal Scale
The Aurora Borealis is a special and shared northern experience. Our intention is to interpret and link this experience with community aspirations. Unlike its heavenly counterpart, however, the Pavilion’s Streamers of reflected sun and LED light can be openly approached, touched, used and explored by day as well as night, through its textured materials, web-based technology, lighting, and formal movement. Like the aurora, the Pavilion will be an integral part of the skyline for the Park, its surrounding streets, and adjacent community buildings.
Mill Woods consists of flowing streams of heritage, of connection and of capacity that link with 85% or more of global cultures. Each of these streams shares a common experience: of migration, of settlement, and of aspiration. Such patterns of experience are not new to Alberta’s plain. The Plains Cree, migrants themselves from the woodlands of central Canada, called the Aurora the dance of the spirits.
  • The Aurora’s Streamers            Streamer – any one of the luminous streaks that make up the aurora borealis and the aurora australis

Much like the mysterious and magical Aurora, the Pavilion’s Streamers are designed for movement and possibilities, a Dance of the Mill Woods Spirit. The texture of their stainless steel chains will sparkle in the sunlight and glisten in the rain. They create and support ice sculptures in the spring thaw, provide light shows from near and far, and can even generate waves of bubbles when children paint their surfaces with soapy solution on windy days.

Most importantly, however, the Streamers highlight community engagement, volunteerism, cultural heritage and public-spirited initiative. We strongly encourage their embellishment and decoration with brightly coloured disks engraved with the names and stories of community volunteers, athletes, leaders, and achievers. We invite further additions that acknowledge donors and contributors to the Pavilion’s construction, to further amenities in the Park and community, and to supportive programs and neighbourhood capacity-building initiatives. Informal additions of commemorative locks that carry personal meaning and connection will build tradition and help the Pavilion create a unique sense of centre for citizens of all ages. 

The Love Padlocks tradition may have originated in the Far East, but now includes over 28 countries, Rome’s Ponte Milvio, similar bridges in Paris, and districts of Los Angeles. At each of these famous locations couples place locks to symbolize their commitment. Like these examples of popular tradition, as well as destinations like Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses, the Pavilion will become a celebration of Mill Woods’ world of distinct heritages united in community achievement.

Over time, it is our hope that the Streamers of the Mill Woods Aurora will develop into delightful and luminous veils of commemorative story and aspiration. The Pavilion will become a unique, highly visible symbol of a common history, of connections to Mill Woods’ many heritages. It will be a magical addition to the Park year round and in its night environment, using light show compositions and patterns contributed by the public through the Pavilion’s web interface.

In its relationship to the open plain of the Park, the Pavilion is also evocative of a larger morphology of history, passage and movement on the Prairie landscape:

  • of stockade and trading fort;
  • of buffalo pound, and livestock fence;
  • of carved river and streambed.

Mill Woods Community Scale

Most Park visitors use the Pavilion amenities only briefly. They experience the Pavilion from its exterior as they pass through, around, or along the edges of the Park. The Pavilion will enhance the urban experience of these citizens as well as Park users. Interactive lighting controlled through internet access adds to the magic of winter festivals and creates a safe and positive night environment near the Pavilion during evening hours. The stories and commemorative function of the Streamers create connection well beyond the Park boundaries and into the community.

Working with the Park Scale

The location chosen by the City for the Pavilion is central to the Park, providing amenity for all its users. The Pavilion is an entry passage for those arriving from the south, but also a centre of activity and meeting. The orientation of the building complements the goals of the Mill Woods Park Master Plan. The Streamers of aurora extend throughout the site in the form of walkways, connecting the sports fields to the amenities at the Pavilion. The design respects and enhances the path desire lines identified by the Park Master Plan. The Aurora also

provides possible design direction for new elements, pathways, storage buildings, and other amenities that will enrich our experience of the Park.

The Pavilion’s Gathering Space

The two lobes of the Aurora Pavilion are designed to create a vibrant new public outdoor space for Mill Woods and its principal park. Oriented to admit summer breezes, yet protected from prevailing winter winds, this unique and magical space supports many scales of activity and event in all seasons:

  • as summer camp space, race start line, cinema, meeting ground, market, and centre for winter carnivals, seasonal events and cultural celebrations of all kinds;
  • for casual use and event dining that supports concession operations; for kite, chess and games rentals, impromptu croquet games and other amusements;
  • as a venue for temporary exhibitions for the Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton Fringe Festival performances, tournament headquarters, fundraisers and contest sites, and broadcast studio for local talent shows;
  • for community connection, web-based interaction, citizenship ceremonies, fund-raising, acknowledgement and commemoration using the interactive veils that form the space.

Sustainability Principles

Sustainability

The project will attain LEED Silver certification through a variety of building, site, innovation and community sustainability measures that include:

  • Orientation and clerestory to provide natural day lighting and winter solar gain.
  • Recessed glazing and overhangs for protection from summer sun, with automatically operable clerestory and internal transom windows for natural cross-ventilation.
  • Wood structure from sustainably managed forests.
  • Steel elements have the inherently high recycled content of steel, and no maintenance or coating required for its stainless components.
  • Innovative rainscreen straw bale exterior wall construction on rubble trench foundations forms the building’s unique shapes cost-effectively, with durable finishes and high insulation value.
  • Foundations using rubble trench technology to below frost lines significantly reduces new concrete use and the attendant energy of its manufacture, and allows for recycling of local concrete product from demolitions.
  • Collection of all snow melt and rain water runoff, as an integral part of the architectural design. Permeable paving to central court, combined with hard surface finishes to access walkways, patio, and concession area.
  • Stormwater drainage to infiltration trenches with low maintenance, native drought resistant grasses and habitat protection, with potential below grade water collection for re-use in grey water systems.
  • High performance insulation values to roof and wall, with high reflectance-coefficient roof covering to reduce solar gain and heat island effect.
  • High efficiency gas-fired boiler or potential ground source hydronic loops with in-floor radiant heat for thermal mass storage and humidity control, programmable for daily energy savings and seasonal setbacks.
  • LED-based interior and exterior lighting controlled by sensors and web-based interactive software, exploiting colour capabilities and long life expectancy.
  • Water-bottle filling station as a focus of the gathering space, to promote alternatives to commercially-bottled water use by both sport participants and spectators.
  • Development of a landscape aesthetic and path system that allows for areas of the park to return to zero maintenance native grasses.

Technical Aspects of the Design Solution

Material and Construction Principles (with reference to the Typical Wall Detail)

  • Rubble and concrete trench foundations to below frost depth, with foundation drainage.
  • Concrete slabs-on-grade with clear finish.
  • Simple, sustainable load-bearing wood structure and straw bale exterior wall construction finished in textured, durable cement stucco. The exterior plane assembly of the bale wall incorporates a foundation drainage membrane manufactured from recycled HDPE.
  • Independent post foundation, galvanized steel post and bracket support to stainless steel top and bottom tension cable system and link-chain Streamer elements.
  • Flat roofs draining to select water leader locations, joining to the perimeter drainage system, to infiltration planting beds extending throughout and beyond building.
  • LED lighting systems, web-based programmable to exterior lighting. Webcam technology for community interaction and public oversight.

The Pavilion is a deliberately flexible offering that engages Mill Woods and its citizens in an ongoing narrative of emerging tradition, of identity and reflection, and of a community journey in harmony with economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Mill Race Park

One of my favorite places in the Region is Mill Race Park, although not a building per say, designed by Adres Kalm landscape architect in 1979, it a very successful place in the Galt area.  The location at Park Hill Road and Water street is the site of the former mill race that served the Turnbull mill across the street, now only ruins remain.  The mill has undergone many cycles of use and is currently being converted into a restaurant and banquet hall.  A good compliment to the ever popular wedding ceremony site of the park.

The park is always busy in the summer and provides endless permutations of use. From wedding ceremonies, to walking your dog, to having and ice cream, to fishing, the designer has provided so many possibilities for this park that is always occupied by someone.

The park has variety of levels that allow you to explore the river is a variety of scales and distances.  You can walk closer to the street and peek down into the old mill race 15 feet below you which still echoes with rushing water.  You can enjoy the terrace that overlooks the river with a great view of downtown Galt and the bridge crossing the river.  The amphitheater is a site for many festivals and weddings throughout the summer.  Or you can get up close and personal with the river by walking down the stairs to each the actual rivers edge.

Your experience of the park is always complimented by an ice cream cone or fries from LA Franks concession stand. A little short on cash, don’t worry LA Franks accepts all your leftover Canadian Tire money. All too often I run into old friends and acquaintances also enjoying an milk shake.

The design eloquently incorporates the history into a modern successful park that will always be a favorite for me.

Guest Blogger Krista Hulshof

 

The Hillborn House

My favourite building in the Region of Waterloo can be found hidden away on a quiet street, sitting atop a steeply sloping site, surrounded by trees, overlooking the Grand River in Preston. It is neither a vaulted hall of academic learning, nor a time capsule for our artistic heritage. It is not burdened with the task of resurrecting our downtown cores, nor with convincing taxpayers that their money was well spent. My favourite building serves a much humbler, but no less important purpose: as a house and home.

Designed by acclaimed Canadian Architect Arthur Erickson is 1974, Hillborn House is an example of a modern architecture that is sensitive to place and that takes its cues from the surrounding landscape. Where the threshold between interior and exterior space, between the built environment and the natural is blurred.

The Design of the house is simple in its conception: a series of monolithic masonry walls, set parallel to one another following the contours of the land. They seem to hold back the earth to create space and organize the programme into a series of terraces that step down towards the river. The space between the monoliths is filled with glass, framing views up and downstream to the river. The entrance and main circulation stair cut through the masonry walls, down the centre of the plan, with rooms and spaces organized to either side. As the stairs step down, the ceiling seems to heighten, amplifying the feeling of space as you move through the house. The masonry walls protrude up through the roof – the interior design articulated on the exterior – creating and enclosing exterior patios and gardens up on the roof. The material palette of stained wood and clay brick is of the land, reinforcing a connection to the site. When the sunlight hits these surfaces it fills the home with a warm, soft light.

The house is by no means a modest one, boasting an interior swimming pool and sauna, a space designed to house a baby grand piano, and an amazing soaker tub in the master ensuite. The tub is sunken into the bathroom floor so that you are looking out level with the forest floor. An incredible place to let one’s mind drift, lost in daydreams.

I was fortunate enough to have visited the house once, nearly11 years ago, when the Owner invited my first year architecture classmates and I over for a tour. So, maybe I am remembering the house though a nostalgic lense. Or perhaps it is more important that it has made such a lasting impression, or that I could see myself living there. I would love to see it again!

Guest Blogger Matthew Muller