Thursday, November 15, 2007

Art in Architecture

A few months ago I was contacted by a very pleasant couple in the Etobicoke area for a landscape design. They were building their custom-dream home which became very apparent as I first pulled up to the site to meet with them.

We walked the property and talked about the various things they would like to see in this place. The conversation which is always more like an interview, allowed me to grasp a general direction in which to take this particular design.

After discussing some of the key elements they wanted in their space, they brought me to a problem area! The driveway....

The definition of Architecture can vary across many professionals... to me, Architecture is the use of building material to create aesthetically pleasing art for a functional living space. Landscape Architecture is the same process, only we use Nature's tools mixed with outdoor building materials.

The Architect for this home no doubt did the job as it is a very beautiful place. But the layout created a problem in the landscape! The garage was tucked under the home to save space on the property. A cleaver design detail but the ensuing grade change resulted in the need for retaining walls.

I won't go as far as to say the Architect left them hanging on that detail... the site plan does show some sort of grade change and armourstone retaining wall. But it was the tree at the top of the slope that threw a wrench in the plan.

I like trees and try to save them when I can... but when the damage is done, you cannot avoid the fact that saving a tree will cost more money then it would to just plant a new one.

The house was built around this tree and a lot of the soil was removed in the excavation of the driveway. We then had an extremely dry Summer which added even more stress. The architect proposed a set of stairs to go in between the home and the tree. A process that would have no doubt driven the last nail in the birch tree's coffin.

So I was asked by the client... "What are the options for a retaining wall here?" I suggested 3 choices, one was to build the wall with armourstone, the second was a precast retaining wall systems and the third was to build a wall with block foundations and use the same stone facing from the home on the retaining walls.

I was then asked, which of the three choices would I choose? Simple! The third one...the most expensive one, but also the most stable and beautiful looking option. Again, Art in Architecture is creating function following form. In Landscape Architecture we sometimes use the materials of the home to pull into the landscape and make the house/structure talk to the land.

They agreed with my choice, but I told them the tree could not stay... I would have to design a wall around that tree and it would look very odd because of the distance between the driveway edge and the spread of it's roots. The end result was to remove the tree according to City of Toronto bylaw and design the walls!

In both the above photo and the one below, we see the wall materials matching to the existing home (click on photos for larger images). It is a seamless flow from house wall to landscape wall which ties the dwelling into the landscape. The end result (although not completed yet) is an eye pleasing display of art in the landscape.

My new plan does call for a tree to sit at the top of the wall area along with shrubs and perennials to soften the stonework... I'll update this post with more to come when the project is completed next year.

I do like it when a plan comes together!


Susan said...

The walls look great and blend with the house very nicely. You were lucky that the clients went for the third option!
I would be interested to see what you will do with the plantings, being as it appears that the walled area is a viewpoint from the french doors.

Kris said...

Is it common in Canada to design houses with doors that go nowhere?

I'm wondering if some sort of a small deck would have been more desirable, or does the grading interfere with that?

Just wondering...I live in California, and I never see doors that go nowhere, but maybe the cold weather...

Paul said...

Hi Kris,

It is called a "Juliet Balcony"... a very common feature in Europe. This home in particular was designed in a French Style. There is a wrought iron railing placed in front of those doors for safety reasons so as to close off the entry.

The basic idea with this style of balcony is to make use of as much light and airflow as possible through the French style doors while creating an interior lounge area.