Designed for a specific family of five, this project nevertheless continues the study of the post-war Vancouver spec house and it's relationship with the history of modern architecture begun in the first East Van house. Built on an exceptionally short lot (by neighbourhood standards), and having to accommodate a growing family, the cubic form was a natural choice. The bipartite disposition of the front facade is a direct (though somewhat inverted) reference to the classic Vancouver Special but other associations as well are at play as well. Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, arguably one of the most iconic houses of the early modern era, featured a floating white volume raised on round columns with an uninterrupted "strip" window as the facade's only adornment. In the eighties, Rem Koolhaas' Villa in the Paris suburbs quoted Le Corbusier's iconic building, cladding it in metal and hoisting it perilously two storeys off the ground on spindly crooked columns. In this rather humble dwelling by comparison, the reference is delivered not through daring structural devices, but rather through superficial though empathetic surfaces and forms which suggest a relationship to place, rather the way other houses on the same block might employ different cladding materials and ornamentation in order to convey different past archtectural styles like "Tudor" or "Victorian" or "Cottage".
The strip window is not a "real" Corbusian strip window, it is in fact two ordinary windows visually banded together by a superficial frame device which suggests both the great fenestral breakthrough of the nineteen twenties (Le Corbusier) and the irreverent though loving, reference of the nineteen eighties (Rem Koolhaas) while at he same, mimicking a stylistic trope familiar to Vancouverites in the commercial architecture and apartment buildings of the nineteen-sixties. The vertical cladding, used in a slightly different manner than usual, gives a distinctly industrial air to the top floor, simultaneously referencing the nearby port and poking fun at Le Corbusier's passion for industrial forms.
The roof deck was another of Le Corbusier's passions. Koolhaas put a swimming pool on his. This one is laid out with beds of tomatoes and herbs. The odd little shed sticking out contains the staircase. As it turns out, planners at city hall have a nickname for such a protuberance. They call it a "fauhawk". In this case, the fauhawk is allowed to be abrupt, yet it is somehow dignified by the matter-of-fact disposition of the building's mass below it. The couple who own the house are chefs and the grandmother does much of her cooking outside, all year round, and since the house is on such a small lot, the roof garden is a well-loved part of the house.
The arched living room window is perhaps the most characteristic detail of the building and the one that works the hardest to convey the particular (anti-) ideological position at play here. Several of the Vancouver Specials in the immediate vicinity employ various kinds of plaster arches. In fact, there is an entire sizable subset of the Vancouver Special that could well be described as "Mediterranean" in style. A second, interior archway, aligned with the front one, divides the kitchen from the dining room, effectively defining the overall shape of the living and dining area. Looking closely, one can see that the two vertical sides of the arch are not, in fact, vertical at all. Variations on this form of arch can be found on a few Vancouver Specials, but the modern elliptical arch is a product of 1960s mannerist modernism and as such, can be found in 1960's tower blocks around the city. In fact, the exploration of the arch form in general, in the middle part of the twentieth century can be seen as another one of the early cracks in the stylistic stranglehold of the International Style during the nineteen sixties.
When the arch appeared in the design process, it was immediately adopted by the clients. It was decided that the house would consist of a shipping container-like box on top of a Mediterranean ground floor, a notion which at once embraces the peculiar logic of its post-war neighbours and at the same time, pulls architectural history into the mundane suburban reality, pushing the language of modern architecture along new avenues of expression, responding to cultural and contextual forces instead of repressing them.