No Small Feat

Charged with the task of designing a house for a family of three for a construction cost comparable to that of tract housing, Winnipeg architect David Penner came up with an extremely compact volume whose forested lot provides a high degree of amenity.

Inspired by Le Corbusier’s artisans’ dwellings, the massing is almost a perfect cube, minimizing exterior surface area. The main living space, elevated half a storey above the entry level, has a completely open plan, with a single 6″ x 6″ fir column in the dead centre of the floor providing an opportunity for spatial definition. The column carries a built-up beam of 2 x 10s which in turn supports 2 x 8 joists, all left exposed (with the exception of a painted drywall panel over the kitchen), endowing the space with the warmth of natural wood. Exposed unfinished spiral ducts add a contrapuntal element of gleaming steel.

The second floor comprises compact bedrooms and bath, and a continuous strip window beside the stair provides light to the interior and a strong vertical element on the east elevation. This window, along with a projecting canopy, marks the entrance on the south side. Aside from this projection and a small canopy on the west, the exterior is unadorned, relying on the sharp contrast between the dark shingle siding and bright red window frames to provide animation. A sloping roof constructed of prefabricated standard trusses is concealed behind false-front walls on the east and west, creating the illusion of a simple flat-roofed volume.

In addition to its compact footprint and disciplined economy of means, the house adopts other strategies of sustainability: the north wall has no openings, reducing heat loss, and materials include salvage wood, sisal flooring, formaldehyde-free medium density fibreboard, and Eco-label coatings and sealants. The overall strategy was developed to minimize both material and labour.

Client: Kathy Taylor

Architect team: David Penner

Structural: Wolfrom Engineering

Contractor: Genn Construction (house); Creative Spaces (deck)

Area: 1,050 ft2

Budget: $90,000

Completion: August 1999

Photography: Daniel Wexler, Jac Comeau

Taylor Residence, Winnipeg, Manitoba

David Penner Architect