THE GLASS HOUSE ON A HILL
Modern architecture in Westmount makes use of hilly surroundings
A new house built on an empty lot in Westmount, Lansdowne House weaves together landscape and history to create a hillside house that would make even Frank Lloyd Wright proud. The famed architect, who died in 1959, has been quoted as saying: “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.”
Local architect Gavin Affleck, who worked on Lansdowne House, said it “takes its cues from Westmount's long tradition of exemplary modern architecture. Modern architecture of quality has always been rooted in history.
“As a semi-detached house on a hillside, the project is an essay in asymmetry. Westmount's past as an enclave within French Canada saw the local flowering of such historic styles as Arts & Crafts and Neo-gothic. Both these styles used asymmetry and informality to distinguish themselves from the more rigid forms of French and Italian classicism. These traditions of informality are reinterpreted in Lansdowne House in a contemporary manner, and celebrate the contrast between its detached and connected sides and its hillside position.”
One of two founding architects of Affleck de la Riva, along with Richard de la Riva, Affleck says the semi-detached house that's located on Lansdowne Avenue, which is known as much for its unique topography as for its heritage architecture, was built based on city bylaws that prescribed “a semi-detached construction connected to its northern neighbour and open
to the south,” among many other regulations meant to preserve the area's unique historical character.
“We seek to create contemporary architecture where expression reveals an architectural abstraction anchored in a larger vision of our heritage,” Affleck said. “Red brick was chosen for the exterior in order to integrate with the many homes on Lansdowne Avenue that use similar masonry.
“The brick façades are organised in informally arranged planes and punctuated by two double-storey bay windows clad in grey slate, another material commonly found in traditional Westmount homes and historic public buildings, like the Westmount Public Library.”
How the house is oriented — closed to the north and open to the east, south and west — favours optimal sun exposure, so much of its interior design revolves around allowing as much natural light in as possible.
“Interior finishes were chosen to accentuate natural light: glass handrails, white plasterboard walls and ceilings, white cabinetry, even a glass-floored bridge on the upper floor. Warmth is provided with hardwood floors, colourful
furniture and some special flourishes, like an onyx interior for the groundfloor washroom,” the architect said.
“The double-height space behind the back bay window — an open dining/living area — is the centre of family life, shifting the focus of activities from the street to the rear of the house and the garden. Lansdowne Avenue has a back lane and garages, so life at the rear of the property is quite vibrant. All of the home's spaces revolve around this generous central space.
“Moving up and down the stairway and across the glass bridge lends theatricality to daily life. Natural light is the key to the design; the double-height central space is bathed in light from morning to
In the end, it's safe to say that thinking like Wright did — and designing a home to make it part of the hill, instead of just built on top of it — does make each the happier for the other.
Size: 3,600 square feet
Materials used for façade: red brick and grey slate
Materials used for interiors: hardwood flooring, glass flooring and handrails, white plasterboard Architect: Affleck de la Riva Project architect: Gavin Affleck Design architects: Gavin Affleck and Richard de la Riva
Project team: Marie-élaine Gibeault, Yannick Beauregard, Alexandre Cassiani, and Serge Gascon
Interior designer: Richard Bélanger Structural engineer: D.L. Turner Consultants Contractor: Sienna Construction
About Affleck de la Riva
Founded by Gavin Affleck and Richard de la Riva in 1995, Affleck de la Riva believes that quality environmental design is an agent of social change and a key element in fostering citizenship, social equity, and healthy lifestyles. The firm provides institutional, commercial and residential design services with an expertise in urban design and the restoration of historic structures, exploring the potential of history and landscape to create contemporary architecture. An interest in craft-based traditions has led to a number of building restorations, including several important historic monuments. In total, Affleck de la Riva has 30 awards including a Governor General's Award, two Ordre des architectes du Québec (OAQ) Awards of Excellence, and an Award of Excellence from Canadian Architect magazine.