Two Sheds Are Better Than One

PROJECT Two Sheds, Vancouver, British Columbia
TEXT Clare Tattersall
PHOTOS Lori Kiessling, unless otherwise noted

Formerly regarded as simply a means to an end, Vancouver’s laneways are now much more than a rear access road for the City’s service vehicles and an alternative thoroughfare for automobiles travelling from one location to another. With the introduction of a new bylaw passed unanimously by City Council in late July 2009, the back alleyways that were never more than an afterthought have been brought to the fore and serve as the pathways to a new way of life. Today, single-family homeowners are eligible to either convert their existing garages into laneway houses or construct new structures in the space usually reserved for parking–provided that these backyard dwellings are only used for rental units or inhabited by the property’s owner.

Although re-visioning the use of this often underutilized property space stems from former mayor Sam Sullivan and the previous municipal government’s EcoDensity initiative, which focuses on altering the city landscape to improve environmental sustainability, affordability and liveability for urbanites, intern architect Joey Giaimo’s Two Sheds project foreshadowed the introduction of the bylaw regulating laneway housing. Completed two years earlier in 2007, the independent initiative in Vancouver’s east end served to awaken city-dwellers to the potential of the city’s alleyways and to reconsider formal conventions for the utilitarian building type.

Privately commissioned by Canadian artist Brian Jungen whose sculptures and paintings fittingly draw upon the tradition of “found art,” Giaimo was tasked with creating a no-nonsense raw shed at the far end of the owner’s property to be used initially for firewood and vehicular storage. But instead of combining the storage programs, Giaimo decided to develop two complementary sheds on the 47′ x 112′ lot. Situated side by side with enough room between the two to allow for an informal yet intimate courtyard that provides access to the laneway beyond, the sheds maximize the footprint and volume authorized by the City’s bylaws, permitting a slightly larger overall footprint compared to a single parking garage. They also anchor the site at the laneway, creating a defined and secured yard between the sheds and the artist’s two-storey home.

Erected fairly quickly–approximately six months from design to construction completion–the addition of this project to the site seems simple enough. However, because Giaimo regarded it as an opportunity to apply ideas developed throughout his schooling to the built form, it was a much more complex initiative. Just three weeks shy of defending his design project for his Master’s degree in Architecture, which considered residual or underutilized space in the city and how it could be redesigned in ways not typically considered to connect with adjacent spaces, Giaimo proposed that the sheds be constructed of customary, practical materials to blend in with the industrial context of the neighbourhood–but in an unconventional way to challenge current approaches to these stereotypical ancillary structures and create meaningful public engagement or activity. “They [were built as] ambiguous things, sort of out of place, so [they] are not perceived as ‘parking garages’ or even ‘sheds’,” explains Giaimo.

To achieve his desired vision, Giaimo used digitally developed 3-D drawings. This presented a clear and exact understanding of how the atypical geometrical forms could be built and the material quantities required to do so. From here, the ground of the sheds was covered with crushed rock and gravel while the open space was finished with a porous paving system that can support a vehicle and serve as green space. The sheds themselves were then constructed of concrete block and wood timber framing. Each structure has a light metal skin, with the anticipation that they could be remade over time and further enclosed, insulated, cut into, added on to or even dismantled, essentially allowing the entire design to be rethought. Large accordion doors provide the privacy the client requires, and they serve as entry points from the laneway. Beyond this, the two sheds vary slightly in appearance, creating a unique juxtaposition. “Formally, sheds are boring structures–strictly utilitarian,” says Giaimo. “The project questions this understanding and how design could inform a rethinking of this building type.”

This was achieved in the quirky shed forms and their ambiguous, flexible structures that allow for future spatial and programmatic changes. For example, though not initially considered as housing, either structure can be easily reconfigured for this purpose. While the current owner has not pursued this end, he has since converted one of the sheds into an exterior workshop. CA

Clare Tattersall is a Toronto-based freelance journalist.

Client Brian Jungen
Design Team Joey Giaimo
Structural Bevan-Pritchard Man Associates Ltd. (Eric Man)
Contractor Smallworks
Mural Joseph Tisiga
Area 1,200 ft2
Budget $60,000
Completion July 2007