Linear House

PROJECT Linear House, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
ARCHITECT Patkau Architects Inc.
PHOTOS James Dow

Linear House is located on a 16-acre farm on Salt Spring Island, an island in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. The property is bisected from east to west by a long row of mature Douglas fir trees. The south half of the site is an orchard containing fruit trees; the north half of the property is a hay field. There was an existing cottage on the property which was sold and relocated to a neighbouring property. The existing barn, garage and studio buildings remain.

The row of large Douglas fir trees stabilizes one’s experience by providing a place to stand, to be next to, and to locate position in the open fields. The trees themselves are textural, old, torn and windswept. They force the realization of the time of the site, of its existence over many years. They have a kind of old heart, and the impulse to site the new house next to these figures was both intuitive and immediate.

The new house extends 276 feet in a straight line in the narrow space between the fir trees to the north and the orchard to the south. The orchard has been made more regular with additional fruit trees so that the clarity of the juxtaposition between the cultural landscape of fruit trees to the south, and the line of native fir trees to the north, is reinforced. The full extent of the house is never directly experienced from the exterior. The experience is of a dark stealth-like figure sliding in and out behind the screens of trees on either side. At a parting of the fir trees, the length of the house is subdivided by a breezeway into a principal dwelling and then guest quarters.

Due to its cladding of charcoal-coloured fibre-cement panels, the house is rendered almost invisible when seen against the dark foliage of the firs. Interiors are described by a luminous inner lining made of translucent acrylic panels. Over 40 fixed and operable acrylic skylights bring sunlight into the roof and wall assemblies during the day, causing the interior liner to glow softly and irregularly. At night, fluorescent lights mounted within the skylight openings turn the entire interior into a luminous field. Areas within this overall luminous surround are subdivided by reinforced concrete fireplace masses and wood cabinet-like service spaces. Large glazed openings extending up to 78 feet, along with 28-foot cantilevered roof canopies at either end of the house, are supported by a pair of six-foot-deep composite wood beams on each long building face. The numerous top-hung sliding aluminum glazed door panels are suspended from these beams. Given the prolonged fair weather in Salt Spring Island, the panels are fully retractable so that the house can be transformed into an open-air pavilion, more shelter than house proper. 

Jury: As an innovative contemporary variation on the pavilion in the landscape, this is an immensely compelling and dramatic example of domestic architecture. The linear form powerfully demarcates the house’s presence in the landscape, framing and defining views along its length, while the sides open up to blur the distinction between inside and out, connecting the occupants both visually and experientially with nature. Skillfully realized in terms of materials, spatial quality and the play of light, it is a sophisticated and sensitive reworking of the classic rural retreat. CA

Client withheld
Architect Team Greg Boothroyd, Christina Gray, Steffen Knab, Hiro Kurozumi, Renee Martin, John Patkau, Patricia Patkau, Peter Suter
Structural Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd.
Envelope Spratt Emanuel Engineering Ltd.
Contractor G-Speed Construction Ltd.
Area 3,500 ft2
Budget withheld
Completion 2009

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