December 1, 2006
by Canadian Architect
ARCHITECT Peter Cardew Architects
LOCATION Vancouver, British Columbia
Preservation through Densification
“The most important thing you can do to make a more sustainable world is to add the D word, density, to your city.”
–Patrick Condon, professor of Landscape Architecture, University of British Columbia
On the eve of the UN World Urban Forum held this summer in Vancouver, Mayor Sam Sullivan outlined an “eco-density” policy aimed at increasing the density of existing residential neighbourhoods while maintaining critical characteristics and qualities that define those neighbourhoods, and which are valued by long-term inhabitants.
The policy intent is to reduce the ecological footprint of future housing development and in doing so, lessen low-density suburban sprawl, make better use of existing services and infrastructure, improve housing choices, allow empty nesters to remain in the community in which they have long-established roots, and reduce the pressure to rezone agricultural and industrial lands.
The Garden Wall House is located on a large lot with an existing heritage-designated residence, the Crosby House. This property is in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood of Vancouver close to Granville Street, a major north-south artery. The site is within 10 minutes by public transit to the downtown and 15 minutes to the airport, and is well served by long-established community and retail facilities.
The Garden Wall House will ensure the ongoing viability of single-family dwellings close to the centre of the city while maintaining the neighbourhood’s desirable characteristics and valued architectural heritage.
The Crosby House is a significant and rare example of early modern architecture in Vancouver reflecting a shift from the traditional domestic architecture before the Second World War. Designed by Robert A. D. Berwick, later of the firm Thompson Berwick and Pratt, a seminal practice in the history of modern architecture in Vancouver, the Crosby House was his first professional commission undertaken when he was still a student at the University of Toronto. Berwick embraced modern technology through the use of materials such as concrete and glass block that heralded a new architecture celebrating the new machine age.
The house is located in Second Shaughnessy, part of Vancouver’s early subdivisions intended to attract affluent and prominent families to the area. Second Shaughnessy, subdivided in 1914, had smaller lots and more modest houses than First Shaughnessy. Constructed as part of the final wave of post-Depression era residential development in the region, the Crosby House reflected an optimism for the future rather than a sentimental longing for the past.
In 1939, the house was featured in the Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, a prestigious achievement for a young graduate architect. The Garden Wall house continues that positive attitude towards a new era in the growth of Vancouver.
Under current Vancouver zoning, a much larger house than the existing Crosby House would be permitted on the property. Despite the Heritage designation, there is no legislation to prevent the demolition of the house and replacement with a house that maximizes the permitted development of the property. Instead of demolition, the proposed infill house not only preserves the Crosby House but responds to the Mayor’s initiative to enhance existing neighbourhoods through densification.
Because of existing lanes both at the rear and east side of the property, the design of the infill house is taken to the edges of the site without infringing on the privacy or daylight enjoyed by adjacent neighbours. The location of the infill avoids crowding the Crosby House (a compromise experienced in many infill projects), thereby enabling it to also maintain existing levels of daylight and privacy, and which also facilitates the retention of a meaningful private garden for the house.
This development would be a fine example of high-quality densification to present at Mayor Sam Sullivan’s proposed EcoDensity Forum in 2007, and would demonstrate to visitors at the Forum how Vancouver continues to evolve as a global leader in the creation of livable cities.
The objective is to maintain privacy and use of the garden as currently enjoyed by the existing house. To achieve this, a garden wall is proposed to the north and east, which, in addition to visual privacy, will provide the heritage house with a quiet haven to for its occupants to enjoy. For centuries, garden walls have been used to define garden spaces, especially in more urban settings. Garden walls also serve to support planting, climbing vines, espaliered trees, and foliage that reinforce the wall’s function as a garden edge.
Between the garden wall and the rear and side lanes, a 19-foot-wide linear house is proposed. The building will have three courtyards onto which six rooms of the house will face, and which will be the private outdoor space for the Garden Wall House. Landscaped courtyards have long provided outdoor living space in urban situations where the ground-oriented house is still a preferred living option. Such spaces ensure that increased density does not compromise access to private outdoor living.
Berke: This project is such an intelligent idea, both as a way to save an important historic house, and as an inventive notion for increasing suburban density. I very much appreciate the plan of the new house, particularly in how it focuses internally on small courtyards. I wish we had been able to see more of its detailing, but I am confident that at the scale of detail it will be as intelligent as it is at the scale of concept and plan. It is a smart, tight project; a confident work of architecture.
Sweetapple: This is an important project that deals with a creative response to infill and densification. Classic urban elements such as garden walls and courtyards form the basic site parti. The inhabited “garden wall” forms the central courtyard, and is designed carefully in response to immediate site conditions. Smaller courtyards within the garden wall give light and programmatic definition to the space within.
Teeple: This is one of the simplest, cleanest and best projects that we reviewed. It demonstrates that engaging in one critical issue in the densification of the city–the definition of clear and usable public and private spaces, can generate a scheme of exceptional clarity, simplicity, elegance and quality. The new house, by posing as the garden wall of the original house, in fact creates a fine setting for the original. The execution is beautifully simple and relentless.
Client John and Tina Philippson
Architect team Peter Cardew, Derek Kaplan, David Scott, Liana Sipelis, Patrick Wheeler
Heritage Robert Lemon Architect Inc.
Structural Fast + Epp Structural Engineers
Landscape Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg
Interiors Peter Cardew Architects
Area 2,586 ft2
EAST LANE ELEVATION
NORTH LANE ELEVATION
UPPER LEVEL — MASTER SUITE
Image of the existing heritage-designated Crosby House designed by Robert A.D. Berwick, a significant and rare example of early modern architecture in Vancouver.
Sketches and axonometric drawings explicitly convey the respectful deference to the existing Crosby House, and the clever organization of the Garden Wall House around a series of courtyards.