North Shore neighbourhoods are changing faster than ever – landscapes, buildings, cultures constantly evolving. There are some wonderful architects and builders on the North Shore. Some, however, may want to re-visit the characteristics, themes and styles of “West Coast Architecture” to ensure their designs have a basic connection to their environment. The West Coast style emerged in the 1940’s in Vancouver and was a major influence on North Shore design for the next 30 years. West Coast Architecture was about designing homes that would “fit” with the environment. Architects produced designs that used nature to their advantage and responded to the natural site as opposed to clearing all natural influences. Many of these houses utilized post and beam construction with large overhangs and large windows.
The following West Coast Architecture building characteristics were outlined by architect Ned Pratt in the 1949 “Design for Living” Exhibition:
Generous roof overhangs, flat roofs, large overhangs on the south façade to control the summer sun while allowing for passive solar heating in winter, indicating an early awareness of energy conservation.
Extensive use of glazing was a fundamental feature, allowing the visual integration of the house into its surrounding landscape. Glass windows were beaded into structural wood members. The amount of glass was not necessarily increased but was concentrated into wide areas facing the view and light.
The often substantial views were maximized with large windows and building orientation.
Preferred exterior wall finish was unpainted or clear-finished wood, often used on both interior and exterior walls as well as the use of large glass walls that blur the distinction between inside and outside.
Open floor plans, minimal use of interior partitions, often with custom designed built-in furniture providing uniformity of style and movable cupboards to allow them to act as movable screens were key features.
In 1994 West Vancouver recognized 124 buildings as historically significant and included them in the “West Vancouver Survey of Significant Architecture 1945-1975”. The list includes mostly private homes but also includes St. David’s Church, Ridgeview and Westcot Elementary Schools. The entire list can be found here:
Unfortunately many of these buildings have been demolished and re-built, as inclusion in the list does not ensure their preservation.
One of the West Vancouver West Coast Architecture houses that has been preserved is the B.C. Binning residence. Binning was one of the pioneers of the modern West Coast movement.
Neighbourhoods will change and evolve over time. However, designers may want to re-visit North Shore architecture from this period to see if their modern buildings could benefit from design from the past.