“It’s a privilege to work on a site like this one,” says architect Jennifer Marshall as she drives up from the main Galiano Island Road onto a steep gravel pathway that climbs through three distinct eco-systems. The first one is fern-laden and dark, the next a thick forest of fir, and finally, at the top of the hill where she has recently completed a residence for a family of three, a typical Gulf Island landscape marked by groves of arbutus trees.

But it’s the view that impresses. The steeply graded site, with a spectacular 550-foot drop down to the sea, opens up onto Montague Harbour and Trincomali Channel. This is more than a charming vista. It’s a view with its own gravitational pull, and the 3,500-square-foot, three-storey house is designed to maximize access to it wherever possible.

Like many of the custom residential projects designed by Urban Arts architecture (Ms. Marshall’s firm with partner Shelley Craig), this one features a reduced palette of natural materials, careful craftsmanship, and a design honed through close consultation with clients.

“We never like to impose an idea on clients, but rather work with them to arrive at a vision that really suits their needs,” explains Ms. Marshall.

Ms. Marshall, who began work on the Galiano residence before she teamed up with Ms. Craig, is focusing most of her practice on community-based projects. Because custom residential design is such a labour of love – and almost an old fashioned craft in these days of corporatized architecture – Ms. Marshall is selective about whom she works with. Inevitably, the intimacy of the relationship between client and architect is such that her residential clients – such as Nancy and Niels Bendtsen of Inform – are either good friends or become so in the process.

The mandate for this very private couple, with a son in his 20s, was for a house that could bridge their needs from recreational abode through to an eventual retirement enclave. It needed to be both a retreat and a place to entertain guests. All the while, Ms. Marshall strove to “respect the quiet-ness of the site,” which, perched on its rocky outcrop over the bay, surrounded by fir and arbutus and frequented only by eagles and hawks, provides the ultimate getaway.

While embracing the site and maintaining a true indoor-outdoor aesthetic, the house unfolds as a series of vignettes, articulated private spaces within larger public views – or getaways within the larger retreat. With a simple palette of fir, cedar, Galiano stone and concrete (mixed on site), this is a residence that fuses seamlessly with its surroundings.

As one enters from the east, a Galiano stone wall edges up to bedrock, and a third-floor bridge behind it floats off the master bedroom and disappears into the sandstone. At this juncture, the interplay between the rectilinear and the oblique, and between the flat and curved roofs that create such a dynamic sense of movement, is also introduced.

But the house unveils itself slowly. First one must open the solid fir pivot door that opens onto the same Galiano stone flooring from the outside entrance that continues in one clean gesture. A walk through a compressed hallway that continues into the kitchen area leads to the big reveal: a great hall space that features continuous curtain wall glazing opening up onto the west-facing view of Montague Harbour.

Here the underside of the curvilinear metal roof, which swoops downward with a drop that mimics the site, is not unlike the upturned hull of a ship. Its dramatic swoop is anchored by a Galiano stone chimney that tapers up the full 22-foot height of the great hall space. An arbutus tree – one of many on the site – transitions between the hallway and kitchen area, its sinuous y-shaped trunk and branches fusing into the ceiling.

Above it a bridge with glass railing, which also functions as a showcase for the client’s art collection, joins the master bedroom to the yoga studio and adjoining stargazing deck. While the view from the kitchen is inspiring, and from the 36-foot-long west-facing second floor deck sweeping, the one from the master bedroom surpasses all. It’s a true crow’s-nest view of the water and the surrounding firs give it a cosy, tree-house feel. It’s all about the experience of being nestled into the landscape.

Indeed, because of the height of the site, the occupants are often at eye level with eagles in flight. It was this avian environment that inspired Ms. Ms. Marshall to create the swooping, curvilinear roof, from which the rest of the house took its cue.

“Actually, when I first came up with the design,” she confides of the roof that is wing-like in its own way, “the clients were concerned that strong winds might sweep it up and away.”

But worries the roof would take flight proved needless. This is a house inspired by eagles, grounded in bedrock and exquisitely crafted – a contemporary cabin made with love and care, where its owners can truly get away from it all.

Urban Arts Architecture is an architectural firm specializing in community based projects. We aim to create meaningful community experiences through the art of architecture.
UAA is committed to integrating sustainable life cycle strategies into each project. We work collaboratively with our clients and consultants in an integrated design process to achieve the maximum experiential and economic value for our projects.
The firm has chosen to focus our practice on community buildings because we love to work intimately with community groups to positively effect growth and interaction. To do this successfully, it is essential to have an in-depth understanding and empathy for the users of our buildings. Working in consultation with the community, we explore each project’s potential to the fullest, incorporating our dedication to the environment, contextual responsiveness, and the art of architecture.
Embedded in its region, our work is inspired by the natural environment, resources, and people of the diverse regions of the Province of BC.

Urban Arts Architecture undertakes private residential commissions where there is a mutual desire to create a contemporary living environment that is uniquely tailored to the client and the site.
Using a reduced pallette of natural materials in carefully crafted details and a clearly articulated structure, we seek to make visible what is special about the site and the people who will be living on it. To achieve this, we work in close collaboration with our clients, sharing ideas through drawings, models, and discussion.

#401 134 Abbott Street
Vancouver, BC  V6B 2K4
telephone: 604.683.5060

by Hadani Ditmars

via globe and mail, urban arts architecture

Contact Agnieszka Stryjecka for more information on Vancouver Real Estate  778.991.5881