Canadian Architect

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Award of Excellence: Staehling Residence

A modest retirement home embodies the multitude of forces that shape its production.

December 1, 2001
by Canadian Architect

Mayne Island, British Columbia

Battersby Howat

This modest retirement home on a half-acre waterfront lot on Mayne Island, British Columbia embodies the multitude of forces that shape its production. To minimize impact on the site, new construction is limited to previously altered land. The house is sited to take advantage of existing infrastructure such as a septic field, well, roads and paths, with upgrades to improve environmental performance.

The gap between the trace of the old cottage and the new house is used as an opportunity for entry, which is marked in section by slippages of roof planes (the glass skylight below the main roof) and perforations of floors at the stairs. The house’s north and east-facing concrete walls create enigmatic facades that screen the inhabitants’ private domain from public view from the road and neighbouring properties, and help reduce heat loss.

The designers’ use of conventional construction reflects the local economy and available labour pool, and additional economies are realized through the use of prefabricated structural members such as roof trusses. The trusses are manipulated to express the dimension of the inner volume and to inscribe a datum against which to read the site’s varied topography. Stepped cantilevers on the south elevation reduce the impact of construction on the site and mitigate solar heat gain during the summer months. Extensive low-E, argon-filled glazing also allows for substantial passive solar gains in the winter. Low maintenance aluminum window frames and zinc roofing are selected in response to an aggressive coastal climate and the requirements of an ageing client.

The house is organized to allow the clients to “age in place.” All of the primary living spaces–kitchen, dining, living, den and master suite–are accommodated on the main level, with secondary functions–garage, guest rooms and storage–located on the level below. The open plan of the main floor accommodates both ease of movement for the inhabitants and promotes natural ventilation.

Caruso: This is an intelligent and sensitive project. I appreciate the way simple means of construction, site conditions and environmental concerns are handled to make an architecture that connects with its place and is appropriate to the modest scale of this project. This is not so easy; construction, site and environmental issues are regularly used to justify the most horrible formal clichs, while in this project these themes have been rigorously worked through to make a house whose exterior appearance and tectonic presence are palpable.

The plan is perhaps not simple enough, but nonetheless the project is infused with a lightness of touch that reminds me of the European modernists’ discovery of balloon frame construction.

Kapusta: Deriving its formal logic from the topography of its waterfront site, the linear plan of this retirement house achieves its complexity by subtle slippages from a strong longitudinal form. The interior public spaces are modestly scaled and organized relative to a bold, transparent wall facing the water. Although somewhat lacking in a middle ground framing device for what seems like a beautiful landscape, the project’s strength is in the clarity of a diagram: slipping opaque planes on the entry side opposed by a pure rhythm of glass panels on the other.

Saia: This modest house might seem to derive from the same dream that inspired the ideal primitive hut of which Rykwert speaks. But this house responds to the criteria established by the jury at the outset. A poetic breeze passes over the architecture of Mayne Island. This retreat simply leaves fashion aside and concerns itself with nothing but the marks left by time in the soil, with the wind, the sun, the view, and of course, the budget and program to respect. Each of the constraints encountered, each of the materials used, induces its own expression which modulates the plan, the volumes, and the architectural vocabulary. The result is a work of high calibre.

Client: Rick and Lori Staehling

Design team: David Battersby, Heather Howat, Kate Robertson

Structural: Fast & Epp Partners (Paul Fast)

Model: Tyler Sharp, David Battersby, Heather Howat

Model photographs: Martin Tessler

Budget: withheld

Completion: Autumn 2002




Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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