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)

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