Design With Nature - May 13, 2022
What a day to end off on. Today we were privileged to tour three iconic homes; McIntyre II, Binning, and Eppich II, each with their own unique spin on west coast modernism. McIntyre II was undoubtedly one of my favourite works of architecture we saw over the past two weeks. Our time spent at McIntyre II was made even more enjoyable due to our lovely hosts and the wonderful time we spent chatting with them. My reflection on May 6th was about indoor-outdoor living. While this house didn’t have as many floor-to-ceiling single-pane glass windows as the Carmichael House, I think this house is the true definition of this west coast modern principle to design with nature.
My first mental note on ‘design with nature’ came about when our hosts, Scott and Corky McIntyre, explained that the skylight was not part of the original build. This reminded me of the reflection I wrote about Merrick House and the idea that buildings should grow. Not only in a ‘we need more space, we need to add an extension kind of way, but in a way that adapts to the surrounding environment and changes in our lives. While an ordinary resident might simply remove the trees that grew too big and cast too much shade, Scott and Corky added a skylight to get more light in. It was important for Corky’s health that she not be stuck in a home all day that is too dark. It adds extraordinarily more light, and it also allows them to get an enchanting view of the treetops as the trees continue to mature. I tried to find information about how many trees are removed for construction in Vancouver every year, but I was unsuccessful. I imagine it is an upsetting figure. I am again thinking back to the Merrick House and recalling how they didn’t remove any trees for construction. These design choices better reflect a ‘design with nature’ principle central to west coast modernism. Additionally, working with nature inherently creates an episodic and sequential experience in the home, an experience far more exciting than a multimillion-dollar white box, probably built on a lot clear-cut to capitalize on a view.
In the realm of landscape architecture, many key thinkers characterize modernism as a period of domination or dominion over nature. Quite the opposite of working with nature. In this sense, we look at some American modernist landscape architects like Thomas Church, Lawrence Halprin, or Roberto Burle Marx, and we see a general move toward hardscape and engineering. The ability to control nature was a big part of the modern landscape period. In Designs for the Pluriverse (2018), Arturo Escobar has some interesting thoughts about the patriarchy and how it is linked to modernity and the dominance over humans and nature. Escobar’s position is that modernity has escalated these patriarchal objectives and that “for the patriarchs it became a practice of destruction, the fragmenting of the elements of matter to eventually produce, out of the isolated elements, what was considered most valuable, such as gold or the philosopher’s stone” (Escobar, 2018, p. 10-11).
Additionally, in an article by Jared Green from The Dirt called “Are Modernist Landscapes Worth Saving?” he explains how these landscapes cannot be separated from the economic and political climate of the time and that these projects are heavily charged. Many of these works were linked to the highly racist intentions of the Urban Renewal period around the 1950s and 60s. I won’t make this reflection about Urban Renewal, but I have written about the impacts of Urban Renewal on our BIPOC communities in Vancouver in my last Vertical Studio project. You can read it by following this link: https://bit.ly/3NkxaX7. All this is to say that McIntyre House II and Merrick House are very similar in their aesthetics but also in their resistance against the dominion over nature influences of the modernist period.
Overall, this course was a fascinating exploration of an architectural style unique to the West Coast. It was highly beneficial to tour these architectural masterpieces with the architects who designed them. In my opinion, it was even more exciting to hear from the homeowners who actually get to experience living in these homes and how being there changes depending on weather, season, or overtime. Our discussions over the past two weeks on heritage, preservation, cost of living, cost and magnitude of maintenance, and density gave me valuable insights into real-world real estate and architectural issues I don’t get to explore as an MLA student.
Thank you, Leslie!!
Escobar, Arturo, and e-Duke Books Scholarly Collection 2018. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Duke University Press, Durham, 2018.
Green, Jared. “Are Modernist Landscapes Worth Saving?” THE DIRT, 22 May 2017, dirt.asla.org/2017/05/22/are-modernist-landscapes-worth-saving/.