Monday, January 27, 2014

Was your house built in the winter?

As we are in the depths of winter, I thought it would be a good time to share two articles about winter house construction in Ottawa, something which was quite novel in the late 1950s. If you live in Elmvale Acres of Lynwood Village, your house may have just have been a winter-build.

Two of Ottawa's large builders at the end of the 1950s - Campeau and Teron - share their winter-building experiences and tips in these two articles from the home building-trade journal National Builder. At the time, winter building was not a common practice in Canada.

It is impressive to read about the number of houses each builder was building per year back in 1958-1959. I wonder how it compares to the numbers of houses built per year by Ottawa builders today?

The apartment building shown above still stands proudly at the southeast corner of King Edward Avenue and Stewart Street in Sandy Hill. The facade has been mostly unaltered, except for an awning with the building name "The King Edward". It is a part of a cluster of rental apartments (some older and some slightly newer) on the east side of King Edward between Laurier Avenue and Rideau Street. Today, new condo buildings are marching up the west side of the street - forming book-ends on the busy thoroughfare. Contemporary builders do not build as many rental properties as they used to, as the profit margin is low and it is far more advantageous to build condominiums. Most of the rental stock are these older buildings - which is great for MCM enthusiasts, plus the apartments are often larger than those in newer buildings!

The image above appears to be the end of Stinson Avenue and Pinepoint Drive in Lynwood Village.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I have realized that it has been way too long since I did a post on the CMHC house plans - so here is a new one! 

Starting in 1947 the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), formerly Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, published regular floor plan books of small houses suitable to be built in Canada. Blueprints could be ordered for the architect-designed plans, and examples of the built houses can be found throughout the country (including Ottawa, of course).

The plans were well-designed and a reflection of design trends and norms at a given time. At the end of the 1960s and in to the 1970s, some of the most innovative designs were produced. Sadly, the program ended in 1974 at the peak of creativity. Perhaps some of the designs were too unique for the general tastes of Canadian society.

Here is a selection of CMHC designs which capture the spirit of the architecture of the time. Of note are the use of different materials (or different applications of the same material), asymmetrical facades, blank facades, creative window arrangements, and interesting roof-lines. Many designs are playful geometric compositions which invite changes in light and shadow. Inside, the layouts are open concept and dramatic, with vaulted rooms, changes in levels, fireplaces as a focal point and sometimes windows in unexpected places (including clerestory windows poking out above the roof-line).

I adore the blank wall on the left side of the front facade and then the peek-a-boo window on the side of the living room next to the front door.

Another fabulous blank facade facing the street - only this time voids in the brick wall add a sense of surprise!

The visual severity of brick wing walls is lessened with the continuous string of windows poking out under the eaves.

Notice how the flagstone on the entry porch flows through to the foyer, dining room and out to the rear porch.

Wow! What a visually stunning facade!

Another beautiful geometric composition. The play of light and shadow on the recessed second floor slit windows animates the facade as the day progresses.

Every once and a while while driving or walking around Ottawa I catch sight of a unique house that I recognize as built from a CMHC plan. Located just off of Prince of Wales near Dynes Road - in Courtland Park - I came upon this house which I recognized immediately as one of my favourite designs. (The area also has a few other CMHC designs scattered throughout).

Below is the original plan and facade for the house. In its current state, some of the contemporary aspects of the facade have been altered, including the removal of the vertical screens over one of the front main level window and the upper level window over the door. A balcony has been added on the second level and shutters were applied. I actually find that the changes work well with the facade, even though it is less contemporary in comparison to the original design. The railing of the balcony still gives the facade a sense of movement and texture, something that is in the spirit of the original vertical wood screens. 
The wood screen detail was an aspect used in the late 1960s and early 1970s to add a sense of texture and movement to the facade of a house. The detail was used on a few designs in the Beaverbrook area of Kanata. Some homeowners have chosen to remove the screens and expose the large windows behind. Here are a few facades from late 1960s designs:

Know of any Ottawa houses built from a CMHC plan? If so, please share!