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McConnell House

McConnell House
Okanagan Falls BC
2006
1850 SF

 

This compact, rugged house is situated in one of the hottest, driest regions in Canada. Okanagan Falls is located at the south end of Skaha lake, a natural threshold between the Okanagan Valley and the arid Osoyoos valley. For 100 years this climate has been ideal for growing fruit, which has created a distorted image of the region as plentiful and benign. The reality is that anything untended or neglected dies or decays quickly. 

The location for this house is on a steep slope, uphill from a narrow road. The upper reaches of the site afford long views across Skaha Lake. The immediate context is semi-rural / suburban, sandwiched between the lake and an active orchard. To locate a garage within the house’s bulk would have involved a switchback driveway, and would have involved completing paving the front half of the site. Instead, the garage is embedded into the lower slope of the site, covered with soil and native grasses. It is an open-air carport, shadowy and quiet.

The form and expression of this house is inspired by the solitary siting of shacks and outbuildings, paired with the weathered patina of a well-used fruit crate. Wood slats that keep fruit from rotting become slats for filtering light and filtering views. By removing the ubiquitous driveway from the house’s periphery, the embedded bulk of the house assumes an indifferent and casual stance. Up a long flight of stairs is a parting between a concrete plinth and a concrete wall. Further ahead, the grade levels off at an artificial courtyard carved out of the site’s section. The lower level pinwheels around this static central courtyard, with one singular purpose master bedroom suite, and two multipurpose office/guest rooms. Mirroring the large entry courtyard is a minor courtyard off the master bath, allowing outdoor showering with total privacy from the street below.

A simple glue-laminated timber roof structure holds up a simple roof with deep eaves. Glue-laminated beams act as combination guards / structural cantilevers for the large upper level deck, which hovers above the entry and lower level plinth. A small deck off the kitchen collects early morning light, around the corner from a wood screen on the kitchen’s south wall that filters hot noon sun.

The bathroom and storage functions on the upper level are combined as one large pod, acting as a buffer from the house to the north. Infilling this elevation of the house that had no redeeming views creates a solid shoulder that the house is spun from, allowing floor to ceiling windows on all other elevations.

The house's plinth and courtyard will be articulated with crude poured-in-place concrete, containing the wood-framed floors and roof. Dust and wear can slowly work away at this concrete base, offering durable protection to the more vulnerable and delicate structural components. The house is very small, benefiting from overlapping uses on the lower level. The conscious decision was to build a dense and solid house, at the expense of wasted space and elaborate expression of the construction connections. By embracing decay and erosion, this house will develop a patina that puts it at ease in this tough climate, becoming more and more aligned with the industrial-agricultural material culture of the region over time.