Canadian Architect


House In Four Fields

December 1, 2012
by Canadian Architect

LOCATION La Conception, Quebec

The site of the project is in the Rouge River Valley, a gently undulating farmer’s field crossed by the meander of an ancient oxbow, structured by wire fences and surrounded by forest. The approach weaves through some aged agricultural and livestock buildings to the south and reveals a view of Mont Tremblant to the east. 

Although the mandate was for a quiet house, it was also for an active landscape. The client’s program includes a certified organic farm while respecting the site ecology. Iconic agricultural building forms dot the regional landscape: here, the house has the tall, austere and reserved form of a slender gabled barn, perched east-west on the wall and against the fencerow, creating a sheltered terrace and outdoor summer kitchen. The reclaimed post-and-beam structure, aged and reclaimed exterior siding, and quarried Mer de Champlain exterior stone are all “harvested” locally. 

From the outset, the project imagined a sheltered courtyard to offset the harsh winters and strong winds–washed in sunlight, and protected by a wall of local stone. The wall is calibrated by a series of apertures which allow for views, thresholds, and the movement of air and light. The house itself rests lightly on this wall–a skeleton of reclaimed wood upon a stereotomic mass. As the armature for the program, the wall hosts a series of functions including a greenhouse, outdoor kitchen, covered living spaces, and the residence itself. A breezeway along the south elevation sets up two circulation axes–one separating the courtyard from the entrance, the other connecting a series of indoor/outdoor spaces including the orchard and gardens. The plan is simple and comfortable, and the elevations are punctured for views, passive solar gain, and access to the agrarian landscape. The envelope is a thick thermal blanket. Designed to potentially attain Canadian Passive House certification, the residence directly responds to the client’s interest of balanced thermal comfort and simplified maintenance. 

The house opens to the summer winds, ventilating at central skylights and end gables, and lends itself to passive night-time flushing. This also enables the family to attain a level of autonomy in sync with the overall farm’s lifestyle. The project design team was tightly integrated, and the initial envelope strategy was modelled with a superior, air-tight envelope (0.5 AC/H at 50 pa), integrating passive solar strategies throughout with the annual specific heat energy demand near 15 KWh/m2y. An internal wood post-and-beam structure and offset prefabricated wall and roof panels drastically limit thermal bridging, bringing related energy losses down by 6 KWh/m2y while providing comfort near the exterior walls. Evenly distributed thermal mass steadies the interior temperatures through the shoulder seasons. 

While benefiting from current technological advancements, the house also revisits local building culture. A local palette of materials is interwoven with responsive, programmed components. It is this dialectic–between low- and high-tech, between the simple form and the high-performance envelope–that breathes both tension and calm into the farmhouse. 

DC: This project exemplifies an honesty in site stewardship matched by an honesty in building; it resists “design by composition” but instead pursues “design by intent.” The deftly placed aggregation of components produces areas spatially rich but highly performative; as a contemporary insertion this project is not out of place but, in fact, comfortably fitted within a landscape befitting time-honoured agricultural structures.

MCC: This is an exemplary project in every way. The approach is guided by green design and is inspired by the traditional architecture and art de vivre Québécois throughout the seasons. The extreme simplicity of the architecture, the perfect merging of site and landscape, the richness of the indoor and outdoor spaces, the beauty of the house’s volume floating over the stone wall is significant. The result is a perfect example of a great coherence between form, sustainable design, high- and low-tech, and traditional methods.

BH: This was the strongest and most interesting of multiple house submissions this year. A combination of siting rigour, material inventiveness, advanced sustainability, respect for historic typology and modern landscape strategy provided a disciplined example of house design that was rigorous while being determinedly untrendy.

Client Stephen and Claudine Bronfman
Architect Team Danny Pearl, Simon Jones, Morgan Carter, Matthieu Schleiss, Chantal Cornu, Dieter Toews, Bernard Olivier, Jessica Dan, Nathalie Heroux, Hugues Daly, Sudhir Suri, Aradhana Gupta, René Chevalier, Jean-François St. Onge, Cecilia Chen, Ivan Sylva
Structural Jan Vrana and Jean-Marc Weill–C&E Ingénierie
Mechanical/Electrical Pageau Morel et Associés Inc.
Civil Marchand Houle et Associés
Landscape NIP paysage
Interiors Adelson Design
Organic Farming Runaway Creek Farm
Lighting Lightemotion
Sustainabililty/PassivHaus Malcolm Isaacs
Project Manager/Contractor Omnia Technologies Inc.
Photography/Graphics L’OEUF
Area 3,720 ft2
Budget withheld
Completion Summer 2013

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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