Expansive Privacy

PROJECT Ferrier Webb Residence, Calgary, Alberta
ARCHITECT Office of Richard Davignon, Architect
TEXT Kate Thompson
PHOTOS Ric Kokotovich

Calgary continues to change, but it’s difficult to witness the city’s evolution from your WestJet window when all you can see for miles around the airport as your plane descends is sprawl, stucco and vinyl siding. However, if you are able to view the neighbourhoods that encircle the inner city, you will notice a subtle trend apparent in residential projects adopting a contemporary approach to their designs. Clients are becoming more critical of the architecture they commission, while municipal projects are increasingly trending towards dramatic insertions into the Calgary landscape.

One recent residential project leading the push for high-quality contemporary work has emerged from the Office of Richard Davignon, Architect (ordA). Given the technical nature of the firm’s work, it is no surprise that Richard Davignon cites Jean Nouvel, Saucier + Perrotte and Santiago Calatrava as architects that have influenced his design process. Davignon, the lead architect on the Ferrier Webb Residence, was trained as a structural engineer prior to graduating from the architecture program at the University of Calgary in 1997 before eventually establishing his firm in 2001. This young eight-person office is nearing completion of their second generation of projects and the results are encouraging. At the end of September 2011, Davignon and business partner Doris Martin will be relaunching ordA as Davignon Martin Architecture.

When visiting ordA, it is apparent that the firm has developed a critical eye for detailing, and this strength in precision design is evidenced by the thick stacks of drawings and process-oriented massing models seen throughout the office. Shop drawings are layered and reviewed electronically, stripped-down framing packages are produced, and intricate three-dimensional models provide the basis for communication with consultants and fabricators. The latest result of this ongoing process, the Ferrier Webb Residence is a culmination of four years of work and clearly shows ordA’s commitment to detailed design explorations.

The main attributes of the project are its large size and close proximity to the downtown. Creating an ideal landscape in which to site the residence was the firm’s most critical gesture. Located in the 1950s community of Britannia in Calgary’s southwest quadrant, the house is sited between busy Elbow Drive and a small nondescript laneway. A driveway was carved from the back laneway into a large internal courtyard for the house, providing the architects with a reference point for the entire project and a focus for movement throughout this 5,800-square-foot residence.

Three simple geometric massing elements revolve around this multi-layered courtyard. The guest wing and garage are one element and together they bracket the house from Elbow Drive. The second element is a heavily windowed main-floor living area that supports a third element–the black metal-clad box containing the bedrooms above. The simple geometries in the project belie the complexity of circulation throughout the project. A sun-drenched corridor on the south side of the courtyard provides access between the guest wing and the main living spaces, and is adorned with large-scale paintings and a totem pole commissioned for the owners.

The three primary volumes, each being defined on the exterior by its own materiality, are individually mechanically supported while a generously scaled horizontal plenum has been introduced between the two storeys to allow for future changes while simplifying the ducting of the current mechanical system.

Despite the restrained material palette for the project, there exist many intricacies in its application. Eschewing the heavy stucco massing found on many recent contemporary homes in Calgary, ordA used site-cast concrete, custom steel panelling, elongated black brick and ipe wood that migrates from the exterior to the interior spaces to further the firm’s desire “to see spaces that expand and contract with the seasons.” Using simple wood-frame construction, Davignon made the exterior walls thicker to increase the contrast between the wall in relation to the window openings.

Essential to the success of this project were the clients. With a collectively critical eye, they believed that the process of achieving a final architectural design was akin to that of an artist painting a canvas. It would be a stretch to describe this single-family home as environmentally friendly but the clients did choose to include geothermal heating, three cisterns to collect rainwater, and ample fenestration to maximize natural daylight, all of which reduce the home’s environmental footprint.

The Ferrier Webb project is a timely insertion into the Calgary residential architecture community. This house adds to the work of other young Calgary firms operating at a high level of design. More than just a structure with a band of windows on the bottom and a black plinth floating above, the house operates on many levels. Through critical detailing and considerable design control, it has achieved a degree of refinement that will hopefully motivate others in the city to do the same. Though frustrated with Calgary in the past, Davignon has noticed a shift in the design community over the past three years. Both clients and the general population seem more open to modern solutions while planners are increasingly promoting and understanding the needs of evolving neighbourhoods. As the School of Architecture at the University of Calgary celebrates its 40th year in the city, perhaps we are finally enjoying the influence of a critical mass of graduate architects, interns and new practitioners that are helping to redefine Calgary architecture–one project at a time. CA

Kate Thompson is an architect and sessional instructor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. She is also a regional coordinator for the Migrating Landscapes competition that is part of Canada’s official entry to the 2012 Venice Biennale in Architecture.

Client Mark Ferrier and Kathleen Webb
Architect Team Richard Davignon, Yan Paquin, Natalia Coto, Doris Martin, Jan Gill
Structural MWC Consulting Structural Engineers
Mechanical Usselman Call Canadian
Electrical Hohnke Intelligent Home Systems
Interiors ce de ce
Landscape Scatlif + Miller + Murray Inc.
Project Management Hannon Richards Collections
Area 5,432 ft2
Budget Withheld
Completion January 2010