Wednesday, December 12, 2018

New-Century Modern


Fresh Towns
The past few years have been an exciting time in residential architecture in Ottawa, particularly for someone with an appreciation of mid-century modern design. There have been a growing number of houses being constructed with what I like to refer to as the “new-century modern” style that take inspiration from progressive architecture from the 1950s-1960s but is approached in a new way. With time this style has become more and more popular with whole neighbourhoods now being built with this new look.
To better appreciate this new style, perhaps I should begin with the period that inspired it, and then look at a few key examples in Ottawa. In particular, mid-century modern design is noteworthy as it eschewed traditional architecture in search of something that was new and fresh for the time. As a result, these houses looked unlike those that were built before them. One of the key features are large windows that sometimes stretch from floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall. These expanses of glass on a façade are often paired with an asymmetrical playfulness of bolder surfaces such as brick, stone or wood. The result is a conversation about light and shadow, positive and negative, solid and void. Horizontal accentuation is also a key aspect of this period of design with low rooflines and a popularity of bungalow and side-split houses. By the end of the 20th century this style became less prevalent with a resurgence of more traditionally-inspired architecture. This lasted until the past few years when there was a return to something daring and new.


An example of the new-century modern style is the Fresh Towns, in Qualicum/Graham Park that takes direct cues from the existing houses. On the surrounding streets are daring designs that still look modern today, even though they were built 50-70 years ago. It would only be fitting that Fresh Towns took inspiration from the adjacent neighbourhood yet created something appropriate for the 21st century. One notable difference are the materials used, as these reflect changes in technology and an openness to using something that in the past may not have been used on residential properties, such as industrial awnings held up by metal wires. There is also an elegant subtlety to the houses as the façades do not compete with the surrounding built landscape. This is especially important as they are located at the gateway to the area, and the resultant style plays out as a congenial dialogue with the established neighbours.

Fresh Towns

Another neighbourhood, Greystone Village in Old Ottawa East, is an in-fill development surrounded by an historic neighbourhood predominantly built in the first half of the 20th century. The designers at Greystone created an architectural language that includes some decidedly modern façades. These houses have large expanses of glass, with windows that wrap around corners, and low-slung or flat roofs. A creative combination of materials such as stone, metal, concrete and brick are juxtaposed with glass railings and horizontal wooden slats playing with both texture and pattern.

Similarly, most of the builders in Wateridge Village, located on the former CFB Rockcliffe have embraced this new aesthetic. Taking inspiration from mid-century modern, these houses visually accentuate the horizontal through the use of a variety of materials. Yet, the difference in these types of structures becomes clear with the stacked townhouse designs that can be as tall as four-and-a-half stories above ground, necessitating a reinterpretation of the former style originally created for bungalows or side-splits. The reworking respects the style that inspired it, but has created more opportunities for innovation and playfulness, including introducing diagonal elements.

In all of these new-century modern examples, the architecture is essentially doing what the mid-century modern designers did at their moment in history by creating façades that speak of originality and also by using materials and technology available at the time. This new take on mid-century modern is innovative and exciting, in many ways being born out of an appreciation and interest in the style that has inspired it.


Mid-Century modern design by Campeau (as are the 2 other black & white images above)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Anatomy of a Modern Plan: The Hybrid 3-Storey Townhouse

Three-Storey townhouses have been around for hundreds of years, but the more recent incarnation of the design, with a garage on the main floor, only appeared in Ottawa in the late 1960s. 

There are 3 main layouts for 3-storey townhouses in Ottawa: the Standard 3 level, Split Level and Hybrid. 


Standard 3 level townhouse with 3 floors above grade.

Split level townhouse with 3 floors.

Hybrid townhouse design with a 1.5-storey living room at the back.


In particular, this post will look at the hybrid layouts that have a living room located at the back of the plan with a 1.5-storey ceiling and a dining room that overlooks the room. This design is notable in that it creates a dramatic space commonly not found in smaller houses. These unique layouts were popularized in the late 1960s up until the 1990s, when they stopped being built for some reason. 

The hybrid layout is common in the Toronto area and started appearing earlier than in Ottawa. More common in Ottawa are the split level layouts where the back living room has a standard height ceiling and there may be a peek through lower on the wall in the dining room. 

Some of the first examples of the hybrid layout are from the early 1970s are in Sheffield Glen and Carson Meadows. Unfortunately, I do not have the floor plans for these designs.

Below are the plans for the townhouses at 2296 Orient Park in Blackburn Hamlet, c. 1973-1976. Most hybrid plans follow this same basic layout. One of the variations in these types of plans is the location of the 2-piece powder room. In this layout it is on the second floor, but it is sometimes located on the entry level or in the basement.


The townhouses at the Riverwood Estate in Woodroffe/Mckellar Park, built c. 1976-1978, are a good example of the hybrid layout. As is common with 3-storey townhouses at the time, especially in the Toronto area, these townhouses have neo-Mansard roofs that roll down the facade as a way of making the houses look less tall.




Of note with these designs is that the back of the house has a walkout basement with access to the yard. It is more common to have the direct yard access from the living room. The full size laundry room beside the kitchen is also a rare aspect of these designs.


Gentry Lane (Bertona Street in Manordale), c. 1976-1978, also have houses with neo-Mansard roofs on the top floor.



These designs are a bit different than most of the hybrid designs in that the front door is half a flight up from the ground level.



Some of the designs in Huntview Estates in Hunt Club Woods, c. 1978-1980, are 3-storey plans. They are intermixed with rows of 2-storey designs. The balcony over the garage makes the 3-storey massing feel less tall and is a nice outdoor space off the kitchen for a BBQ.

In this Sawmill Creek complex, c. 1984-1985, 2 of the 3 designs are hybrids. The Bergen/Bergen Special plan has a strikingly modern steep roof line that wraps down the facade.


The cross section diagram shows the typical layout of a hybrid plan. The Bergen Special has a walkout basement.
One design in this Hunt Club Woods complex, c. 1983-1985, is a hybrid plan. It is interspersed with 2-story designs. Of note is the tunnel from the garage to the back yard creating designs where the adjacent unit on one side is only attached by the garage.  
Noteworthy is that these designs have an arch-topped window over the sliding door in the living room, compared to the usual rectangular window. This represents a movement towards more traditionally-inspired architecture at the time. The townhouses in this complex, called the "Chateaus of Hunt Club" have neo-traditional architecture - not quite modern, but not fully traditional.


Timberlay built a series of hybrid designs during the early 1990s in Fallingbrook, Kanata Lakes and Cardinal Glen. They are often mixed in with 2-storey and even bungalow designs. Interestingly, the facade of the Brighton, shown below, has a front-facing gable roof that accentuates the height of the house. This is a departure from the 1970s when neo-Mansard roofs were used to minimize the expression of the height. These were some of the last examples of hybrid designs built in Ottawa.  


This is one of the narrowest of the hybrid designs at 17 feet 6 inches wide. They are typically 18-21 feet wide.



Much like the houses at Gentry Lane, shown above, this model has the front entry raised half a flight above the ground level. Also of note is the staircase that runs from side to side, compared to the common back to front alignment. In this plan one bedroom is located half a flight down from the top floor.




As one of the later iterations of the hybrid design, this plan below has features more common of housing at the time in the 1990s. In particular, the kitchen is large and has a room next to it called a family room (but probably used as a breakfast room), and the master bedroom has a large ensuite bathroom and walk-in closet.




I am not sure why this type of 3-storey townhouse stopped being built, but the hybrid design's dramatic living rooms and dining rooms with balcony overlooks mark a moment in housing that thought outside of the box...and can provide inspiration moving forward.

Just for fun: Although not in Ottawa, I wanted to share one of the more unusual expressions of the Hybrid plan from my hometown of Brampton. The Stornwood complex of townhouses have one of the only versions of a reversed hybrid 3-storey plan that I have ever seen. In this case the high-ceilinged spaces at the back are the dining room and conservatory (the kitchen was built with a dropped ceiling for some reason), and over the garage are the living room and a library with a balcony overlook.




Friday, October 12, 2018

Hab-Com - Springfield Mews

At the end of the 1970s and in to the early 1980s there was a company called Hab-Com that is responsible for some of the city's most interesting housing projects. One of their goals was to create designs that felt like single family housing, but a medium densities. 
This is the second and final part of a series that focuses Hab-Com. This post is on Springfield Mews in Lindenlea. I am missing a handful of the plans for the condo units, so if anyone has them I would love to add them to this post. I also know that Hab-Com built a few other smaller projects, but alas, I do not have the plans.









The lower part of the neighbourhood has a series of townhouses of varying sizes and designs, as well as stacked townhouses.











Much like the Hab-Com stacked townhouse units in Cathcart Mews, these designs are very unique in their layout. Three units make up a repeated module: a bungalow and two upper townhouse units. All three have a ground level front door, small basement and direct access to a garage on the lower level.














The lower condo buildings have split level units, with the living spaces on one level and bedrooms on another level. There are a handful of smaller single level units as well.

























At the very top of the development are a series of attached condo buildings. Some of the larger units are unique in that they have floor through layouts with windows on the front and the back of the building. Many of the layouts were customized, and I am missing some of the plans. Below is everything I have.