Rooms with a View

Sited in the established Bankview neighbourhood in Calgary’s most desirable southwest quadrant, this residence is perched high on a hill overlooking the neighbouring rooftops to the corporate towers of the downtown core. Bankview lies on the south side of 17th Avenue and its hilly topography includes a relatively dense mix of single-family homes, inexpensive apartments and some higher-end condominiums.

Lesley Beale and Jeremy Sturgess are the architects and residents of this project. As recent empty-nesters, they made a conscious attempt to downsize their living space from their previous three-bedroom home, and selected Bankview in their commitment to increasing density in existing neighborhoods proximate to the city centre. This house represents the smaller half of a duplex, one of three private residences on the site of what was formerly a 1950s single-family bungalow, and is sandwiched by the remaining half-duplex on the west and a complementary single-family home on the east.

A conventional separation of functions occurs in this 3-storey house: the lower level contains the garage, mudroom, and a two-room children’s/guest suite, while the main floor living areas are topped by a large master bedroom suite and a small narrow library. Ample outdoor spaces are exploited in the house. A front terrace accessible through the living room embraces the downtown skyline to the northeast, while access from the rear of the house leads to a private south-facing enclosed garden. A roof deck is accessible via a ladder in the top-floor library.

An open loft-like feel was accomplished in this project through the provision of wide open spaces largely devoid of any separating walls. The drama of the steel stair visually bisects the main floor’s living room from the kitchen and dining room, but the openness of the main floor remains uncompromised by the kitchen, whose cabinets and central island appear as objects merely contained within the larger space. Even the pantry and powder room are discreetly concealed behind the cabinet wall so as not to impede on this integral whole. In keeping with the spatial flow, the upstairs master suite and library are completely open to the double-height living room below and the expansive view of the city skyline, separated only by a frosted glass guardrail. For added privacy, a sliding wall may be utilized to shield the bedroom from the more public activities of the house.

The open structure was made possible through standard wood framing and custom-designed structural steel, and the structural elements of the house are overtly expressed in a variety of ways. The exposed steel members provide not only the framing and lateral structural bracing, but also serve as a finished edge and support for the glass guardrail of the interior balcony. The roof structure is expressed in the cadence of wood double-beams puncturing through the rear of the house from the second floor, dynamically casting striped shadows on the pale rear faade and against the dark wall separating the adjacent half of the duplex. The handsome material palette of contrast is evident throughout the interior in the pale pistachio walls offset by an abundance of weathered and exposed steel, deep brown oak millwork, frosted glass and variegated cherry hardwood strip flooring.

Though the front of the house is essentially a large window wall, the pattern of fenestration on the second floor seems to bear little relationship to that of the first floor, resembling a tall row of glass teeth sitting atop the larger first floor panes. Echoes of a distinctly ’80s postmodern flourish are evident in the somewhat graphic two-dimensional quality and the virtually symmetrical features of the building. Yet a niggling dissatisfaction remains regarding the not-quite perfectly symmetrical aspects of the entire duplex; the two halves are almost identical with the exception that the western half is a full storey taller with a much more expressive roofline. Additionally, the fenestration of the Beale/Sturgess residence possesses a near-perfect symmetry from the front, but falls short of this ideal at the rear of the house, where the back door access to the deck throws this careful composition completely off.

What the house does accomplish and quite well at that is to positively address the issues of urbanity in the neighbourhood. Credit must be given to Beale and Sturgess who have chosen to build their new home in an older, established part of the city rather than contributing to the ever-expanding perimeter of Calgary. This three-residence infill project maximizes the allowable site density, and creates a strongly articulated building wall along the steep street edge, grounded in the duplex’s dark base which houses a parking garage beneath each unit. Spectacular views and particular site conditions have been exploited while maximizing natural light and transparency. Yet it is disappointing that the house is not as contextually responsive as one might hope, given its clear agenda of sustainability and increased densification in this sprawling western city. The building’s collision of boxy hard-edged forms rests a little awkwardly amongst its neighbours.

Through light-filled open spaces and a tactile and varied material palette, Beale and Sturgess have transformed what is essentially a generic box into a highly habitable and pleasant home. More importantly, they have issued a critical statement about the need to staunch the profuse flow of suburban sprawl so endemic in this community. Despite its flaws, this project represents a definite improvement to the quality of the neighbourhood and a case study from which all residential architects may benefit.

Client: Lesley Beale and Jeremy Sturgess

Architect Team: Jeremy Sturgess, Lesley Beale, Tom Leong

Structural: Grant Structural Engineering Ltd.

Landscape: Lesley Beale

Contractor: Peter Walton, Warbleton Construction

Area: 2,800 ft2

Budget: $400,000

Completion: April 2003

Photography: Robert Lemermeyer