April 20, 2016
by Blair Marsden
A structural wood lattice wraps a solarium addition to a Calgary home. Designed to provide year-round warmth, the space includes a built-in fireplace, tiered seating and low-maintenance plants.
TEXT Blair Marsden
PHOTO Studio North
When you meet the two principals of Calgary-based design-build firm Studio North, it is immediately apparent that they love what they do. Matthew Kennedy and Mark Erickson are committed to studio practice in ways that many would find daunting. Like many younger practitioners, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty: to practice, they believe, is to simultaneously create. Engagement in practice is a direct means through which to flush out or frame an idea. Practice is not the mere repetition of something already encoded; there is an element of discovery in the doing.
One of the duo’s favourite projects to date is a series of additions to a bungalow in the inner-city neighbourhood of Albert Park. The firm was graced with a remarkable client as a catalyst—a worldly, 21st century polymath who wanted to adapt his existing 1950s house so that friends, family and work colleagues could visit and sojourn for short periods of time. To this end, Studio North gradually reconfigured and renovated the main floor, basement and garage to create three discrete, compact dwellings that share a common solarium and courtyard.
On the surface, the project is deceptively modest. The centrepiece is the solarium, which includes a terraced deck and integrated planters, filled with low-maintenance plants that can withstand the erratic watering that results from the client’s shifting schedule. A translucent polycarbonate cladding stretches across the walls and ceiling, inviting in diffuse daylight. Adding to the warmth in the winter, a fireplace at the entrance is framed by charred cedar planks. Pebbled areas blur the distinction between indoors and out. It is easy to take in and makes one feel instantly good.
Named Homeway, the project is one of Kennedy and Erickson’s first building-scale commissions. They see it as a formative gift for their young firm. It allowed them to incubate, recognize and craft fundamental ideas of their studio practice. Working with a sense of mindfulness, they uncovered something profoundly germane and pleasurable in the doing of good work. The project also allowed for them to understand and recognize patterns in how they work best—in particular, they realized the power of substantive client involvement through dialogue. A long series of conversations resulted in the playful column and ceiling beam pattern, based on plant veining—a design that has an inherent structural logic.
Having a client who was highly engaged in the design and who participated in the build made a huge difference. There was both tacit and explicit collaboration built into the project at every level.
While Homeaway was officially completed last summer, the work is still very much in progress. The client and the principals visit regularly, discussing how areas might be tweaked or improved. Kennedy and Erickson have struck a chord with their process and practice at Homeaway. Like the life that springs forth out of the solarium, they have germinated a way of doing things.
Blair Marsden is an architectural technology instructor currently involved in redeveloping the curriculum and pedagogy at SAIT Polytechnic.