Not so long
ago, architect and builder were synonymous. Aspiring designers worked
their way to professional standing as apprentices on the job site.
These days, the stains on an architect's clothes are usually from
coffee spills, not mortar or gypsum. Todd MacAllen and Stephanie
Forsythe, who met at Dal Tech's School of Architecture in Halifax,
have revived the architect-as-builder model.
After a few
terms at Dal, MacAllen had the opportunity to design a home for
his parents on Galiano Island in British Columbia. A leave of absence
allowed him to supervise and participate in its construction. During
this project, working daily with experienced tradespeople, he saw
the importance of improvisation and innovation on the job site.
Assembly of details is not determined strictly by the design on
paper, but is also affected by the act of building. On site, craft
and materials supersede theory; wood and concrete conquer paper.
This first project and two other MacAllen and Forsythe houses are
featured in an exhibition at DalTech this March.
and Forsythe were commissioned in 1997 to design-build a home in
Colorado, they moved to the site, first camping in a tent then living
in a nearby cabin. MacAllen, from British Columbia, and Forsythe,
from Nova Scotia, were both used to coastal sites - the horizon
line of the ocean was a common reference. The topography in the
shadow of the Rockies was new and strange. By living on the land,
they began to see how the wind behaved, where the warm spots were,
and what materials were locally available.
They sited the
house behind a rock ledge which shelters it from the north wind.
A monolithic hand polished concrete slab table in front of a large
south-facing window captures the sun's warmth and provides a hearth
like focus to the upstairs living area. Overhead, a full length
site-built skylight opens up to the ever-changing sky. The entryway
is built of stones gathered on site. The skin of the home is a rain-screen
of wide-spaced boards anchored to the sheathing with wood screws,
forming a braced armor against frequent wind storms. At ground level,
an integrated horse stall opens onto the paddock in the meadow,
allowing the the owner's animal companion to visit. A nearby shed
stores energy: solar panels cover its roof for electricity while
firewood and hay are stored beneath. MacAllen and Forsythe spent
nine months building the home, with outside help only for electrical,
plumbing and gyprock work. The home was chosen from among 900 entries
to win an award co-sponsored by Architectural Review magazine and
the Danish firm d-line for outstanding work by young, emerging architects.
T.E. SMITH-LAMOTHE, a Halifax-based artist and architect.