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South House

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South House
Uplands, Victoria, BC
2500 SF + 400 SF Studio + 400 SF Workshop

This quiet, low-slung house has a concept that is potently singular:  Since the site is oriented east – west, southern light hits the side of the house. This house celebrates its sideways orientation with highly sculpted cross sections, where two continuous clerestory roof monitors bathe every interior space with light.  The context’s generic suburban language of garages, front room windows, chimneys and dominant rooflines was abstracted, then reassembled. These elements are composed into a cloistered house, tuned to the client’s quirky sleeping schedules, hobbies and the material culture of Victoria.  

The U-shaped courtyard plan and pool gives form to the client’s lives. One client works in health services, with unpredictable hours.  The other client is a wood-worker, who is especially enthusiastic about noisy power tools. The master bedroom and workshop are placed as far apart as possible, on different levels. The remainder of the living and bedroom spaces fill the gaps between these two spaces. Three generations will live under one roof, with the grandmother’s suite having the prominent position at the front of the house. The exterior of the house re-works common red bricks used around Oak Bay and Victoria since the late 1800’s. Crushed recycled bricks will be mixed into the house’s stucco, to create a rough red-oxide shell.

With the pragmatism of a farmer, letting in as much south light as possible creates experiential delight, sculptural spaces and a strong connection with the seasons.  The house’s short cross sections are a critical response to the suburban house typology’s tendency to under-develop sloped attic spaces, defaulting to flat interior ceilings created with prefabricated wood trusses.

Through sculpting, the exterior shell of the house has solidity and permanence. Windows and doors are deeply recessed, to protect them from the rain. At the south side-yard these recesses increase their room’s privacy and intimacy, with windows like an archer’s arrow-slits in a castle wall. On the north side-yard, a home office is the only interior space allowed to protrude beyond the red shell. This space’s north light is ideal for computer use, when this mini-observatory is not being used to keep an eye on the workshop, front yard, and the path to the pool. Moments of surprise animate the interior, with human scaled curved niches sprinkled throughout the plan and a secret master bathroom courtyard. 

A wood entry bridge and stair connects the house’s two branches.  The sound of someone walking across the bridge or down the wood stair acoustically emphasizes this zone as a transitory hinge space, acoustically different from the solid concrete flooring throughout the rest of the house.  By using a ubiquitous sliding patio door as the house’s entry, the house’s entry is transparent and humble.

All south-facing clerestory windows were modeled and proportioned to keep out summer sun, while admitting winter sun. Ceiling curves soften and amplify the light flowing into every corner of the house, so electric lighting will not be needed during the day.  The house will not use air-conditioning, with each space’s clerestory window having one operable window, to create a ventilating stack effect during the summer.