Architecture: Sandrin Leung Design Build
Location: Sechelt, BC Canada
Area: 111.5 sqm
Structural Engineer: John Enevoldson
Building Envelope Engineer: Chester Machniewski
Construction: Aaron Andronyk Contracting
Project Year: 2009 – 2010
The Rockhouse is organized around a central courtyard space, which mediates between the public and the private domains of the house. This organization emerges primarily from the influences of the site, in the gesture of embracing the incredible rock bluff at the rear of the property.
The site is an infill lot in the downtown area of Sechelt, and was considered undesirable because of the challenge that the rock bluff represented. In 1,200 sf (111.5 sqm), this single-storey 3-bedroom / 2-bathroom house maximizes layout efficiency without sacrificing spaciousness. The omnipresent connection to the outdoors gives the house a feeling of unity and a feeling of seclusion at the same time.
The presence of wood in the courtyard, as cedar siding and as cedar deck, surrounds the space with warmth, as if one were being held in the privacy of a womb. The courtyard is a space of private contemplation. The outside world is filtered through the glazed entry breezeway, and the focus is directed upwards towards the sky and at the majestic rock bluff, which completes the enclosure of the space. A hammock is strung across, inviting one to immerse in the privacy of this womb, while the surrounding vastness invites one to dream.
While the warming presence of the wood in the courtyard gives the exterior space a feeling of being a secluded interior space, the opposite happens in the living room. Here the beauty of the outdoors is invited in by exposing a portion of the massive rock bluff as the back wall. The warmth and delicacy of the bamboo floors and the pine ceiling intersect the rough and quiet surface of the exposed rock. The ability to reach out and touch the natural beauty of the surroundings from one’s own living room brings a sense of grounding and wonderment to everyday living. The small captured portion of this massive rock formation provides an intimate glimpse into the vastness of nature beyond.
Innovative building envelope details ensure that this human intervention works positively with the natural environment, without interfering with the natural drainage patterns of the rock formation.
On the bedroom wing, the rock is again invited into the private space of the house, but this time through a strategic slot window that reveals an intimate sample of the quiet rock surface. While lying in bed, the window provides dreamers a full view up the incredible bluff.
From the street, the blank cedar siding walls with clerestory windows provide privacy to the interior. But at the glazed entry breezeway, the curiosity of the passerby is instigated by partially revealing the serenity of the interior space. The beauty of the massive rock bluff at the rear of the courtyard draws the viewer in. The exterior of the house protects the privacy of its inhabitants while at the same time welcoming a glimpse into private life. The façade of the house provides a spark of curiosity, rather than full exposure of its interior.
The house construction makes use of standard wood building techniques arranged in unexpected ways to create an element of surprise. The volumetric and uplifting vaulted ceilings throughout the house are created from standard hip and valley roof combinations in order to allow light in from the South clerestory windows, provide a friendly human-scaled elevation at the front of the house on the East, and rise up as if to meet the rock bluff to the West. The house’s siting and orientation takes advantage of passive solar strategies for creating sustainable living. The South facing clerestories in both wings of the house shelter the summer sun while inviting the winter sun in.
High levels of natural lighting throughout the house largely reduce energy consumption during the day. The warmth of the winter sun reduces the heating load. Natural cross ventilation draws the air from the outside and out to the courtyard, providing easy cooling in the summer. The house uses all natural building materials wherever possible, including light wood frame construction, SFI certified knotty cedar siding and deck, knotty pine ceilings and soffit, bamboo flooring and millwork, natural stone in bathroom floors, pine cabinets, and fir entry doors.
From the courtyard, there is still one thing left to do – to climb the rock bluff all the way to the top. There another geographic wonder is revealed. From that point one perceives that the house is nestled between two bodies of water, the Inlet to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the South, with a distance of less than ½ mile between the two. Without this narrow piece of land the area to the North would have been an island. The Rockhouse site is also a geographic link, or as the Coast Salish once described – Sechelt – “the land between two waters.”