Nestled into the edge of the Canadian Shield, Birdhouse aspires to a purity of form whose power lies in flawless proportions, monochromatic materials, and exquisite modesty.
Birdhouse is a marriage of quiet contrasts between nature and built form, verticality and horizontality, exterior and interior. The charcoal-coloured, pitched-roof design comes into view through a procession of trees, many of which have been denuded at their base by deer. Offering clear sightlines through an otherwise dense copse, the arboreal landscape is central to the overall architectural choreography, working to both conceal and reveal the home.
Early in the design process, we discovered an unexpected source of inspiration: several trees on the property featured birdhouses left behind by previous owners. These nesting cavities — simple in shape and purpose — informed the architectural objectives: to create a refuge for spiritual nourishment and social connection, forthright in form and function, that communicates directly with nature while protecting from the elements.
The windswept property offers extraordinary views and lake proximity; however, working from the existing, smaller footprint posed challenges related to weather mitigation and achieving the desired program. Leveraging the topography to address programmatic objectives and microclimate, our team evolved a design — and oversaw a complex construction process — that inserted a compact, two-storey family cottage into the Precambrian outcropping, enabling us to optimize the home’s layout, resilience, and ability to provide shelter on a blustery site.
Clad in locally sourced Shou Sugi Ban cedar — a weather-proofing technique that prevents decay and promotes longevity — Birdhouse is built primarily from natural and durable materials. As the receding structure steps down from the driveway at grade to reveal a lower lake level, the exterior finish correspondingly segues from charred cedar to a unique board-formed concrete manufactured locally using richly textured rough-sawn lumber.
Inside, the white oak millwork, which soars across the double-height space, unfolds seamlessly and sculpturally across the interiors, belying the complex planning and detailing that was required to achieve this clean, continuous effect. Executing the “disappearing act” of minimalist design while optimizing functionality and sustainability was one of the greatest challenges and achievements of the project. We collaborated closely with an innovative contractor as well as local millworkers, fabricators, metalworkers, and electricians, all of whom deployed advanced techniques to execute sophisticated craftsmanship. The result is an exquisitely detailed home in which every vent and grill placement was considered to deliver a hyper-functional experience while preserving the formal integrity of the design.
Our sustainability strategy included large, operable triple-glazed windows and skylights that flood the home with daylight, provide excellent insulation, and enable powerful passive and cross-ventilation. The lake-facing windows can be opened to take advantage of seasonal wind patterns, while the skylights create a stack effect, drawing air up through the double-height space. The high-efficiency wood stove offers supplementary heating in the winter and maintains excellent indoor air quality in the house.
The home’s compact form maximizes surface area-to-volume ratio, thereby minimizing heat loss and gain, while the high-performance envelope reduces energy usage and increases occupant comfort. Zoned mechanical and in-floor radiant heating systems, combined with the thermal mass created by the concrete floor, promote targeted temperature control, supplementing the passive ventilation strategy.
Images: Doublespace Photography