Float Planes

Posted by Rumin Mann
June 28th, 2012

A short-lived design partnership yielded a carefully conceived West Coast residence that floats above its rocky outcrop.

When West Vancouver’s City Council approved the demolition of Arthur Erickson’s famed Graham House, the loss of this West Coast Modern gem resonated among the architectural community across the country and beyond. Arguably one of the few times and places in Canadian architectural history revered internationally for its sense of place and unique approach to climate, building materials and lifestyle, the legacy of architectural design in British Columbia from the 1950s and ’60s is increasingly threatened by the expense of upkeep in a strong developer-driven market. Fortunately, a new generation of designers is attempting to address this cultural amnesia head-on through a reinterpretation of the fundamentals of this venerable style. The Gulf Islands Residence, the inaugural project of local design collaborative Rural/Urban/Fantasy Project–or RUF for short–is an elegant example of this continuum.

Just under 100 kilometres across the Strait of Georgia from mainland British Columbia’s lower west coast, Salt Spring Island is the largest of the South Gulf Islands. Accessible from both the mainland and Vancouver Island by float plane and ferry service, its population can easily triple during the summer. The road from Ganges, the largest island village, to this waterfront retreat winds through dense stretches of forest scattered with an eclectic mix of wooden cabins and modern homes until finally opening up onto a moss-covered rocky outcrop sloping gently down to an even rockier shore. Set back from the road, the house appears to float like a glass bridge spanning the rocky crest, framing panoramic views of the Strait and the islands beyond. The strong horizontals of the golden-coloured heavy timber roof hold the gaze low to the ground, identifying immediately the duality of this Modernist object in the landscape–the desire to blend into its natural setting while simultaneously standing out.

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