Kerchum Residence

Architect Frits De Vries
Location Vancouver, British Columbia

This single-family residence in the Dunbar neighbourhood of Vancouver was designed as a home for the clients and their young family, but it also functions as a demonstration home for their building and renovation company that focuses on sustainable residential building. The home is the first LEED Platinum-certified home in Western Canada.

The design is a response to the clients’ appreciation of modern architecture and desire for a flexible plan, accommodating entertaining, intimacy and the potential to accommodate a growing family. The goal was to create large integrated indoor and outdoor entertaining spaces without sacrificing the sense of domestic intimacy for the young couple. The design explores the potential for diversity of spatial experience within the constraints of a standard rectilinear city lot. The interior-exterior relationships of the multiple outdoor patios and gardens are formed integrally within the architectural framework, so that the whole site becomes a cohesive living space.

Sectionally, the house is made up of two parts that are connected by a central stair. The first volume is two storeys boasting high ceilings and a roof deck, and the second volume is three storeys above grade; its lowest level below grade opens onto a sunken courtyard. The open stair is lit from above by a skylight, flooding the interconnected floors with natural daylight.

Light is considered in the house as a means of defining scale and intimacy in the space. This is demonstrated in the main floor living/dining room. South light is filtered through an intimately scaled front window with horizontal wood fins, moderating the direct southern exposure and defining the private realm from the street. A narrow skylight along the length of the main living space provides soft light from above, lending an introspective quality to the otherwise large and open space. The north wall of the room is made up of large glass sliding doors, opening to the rear patio and garden. A large overhang ensures that the light is even and diffuse. As the house is oriented and designed for passive solar usage, the relationship of windows to their overhangs also maximizes solar gain in the winter, and controls it in the summer.

The construction of a well insulated building envelope with high-quality triple glazing allows this home to maintain a high level of energy efficiency while accommodating large glazed areas. A high-efficiency heating/cooling system was integrated into the design and construction of the house, and includes an air-to-water heat pump, heat recovery, in-floor radiant heat, and rooftop solar hot-water heating. Planted roof areas establish a connection between the interiors and the gardens on all levels of the house, and also reduce heat reflectance and rainwater runoff. Landscape design on all levels makes use of native drought-tolerant plant species to minimize water usage, facilitated by rainwater harvesting and storage. 

The approach to the project was very collaborative, and a strong working relationship was established between the architect, client/builder, landscape designer and energy rater. The success of the built project was the result of a shared vision between the professionals involved to develop a home that integrates strong design and high-end finishing with sustainable building practices, which involves the conscious choice of energy reduction and environmentally preferable products.

Jury Comments

At the residential scale, net-zero energy and much more extensive definitions of green design can be brought into play. The Kerchum Residence does not attempt aggressive targets, but does present a well-integrated and attractive detached house that will be robust and easy to maintain while keeping a low-energy and carbon footprint. As a Platinum-certified house in the LEED Homes program, it shows that green performance is not incompatible with elegant design.

This is an example of innovative architecture resulting in a high level of performance and design quality. As this project offers a real alternative to the typical single-family home design, I believe it deserves mention.

The jury for this award was comprised of Peter Busby, FRAIC; Teresa Coady, FRAIC; and Stephen Pope, FRAIC.