Text description provided by the architects. Located within an eclectic community in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia is a self-commissioned mixed use project by Susan Fitzgerald Architecture and her builder partner Brainard Fitzgerald. Neighbors include: the city crematorium, the Centre for Islamic Development Mosque, a print shop, a legal marijuana grow operation, a recycling depot, a coffee roaster and cafe, a car dealership, an automobile repair shop, condominiums and the sparse remnants of row-housing from the early 1900s. Within the 25’ x 100’ lot, this project contributes to the rich character of this community where the converging conditions of affordable land, rapid growth and light industry suggest an uncertain future. Advocating ways to maintain and enrich the diversity in the neighborhood, this project increases density, community and livability.
Consisting of three separate units, each with entrances at grade, the program for the project includes: an office space for an architecture and contractor firm with equipment storage; a dwelling for a family of four with a dog and two cats; and a two-storey live/work rental studio apartment. Programmatic and spatial flexibility enables the commercial and residential spaces to contract or expand into one another based upon the viability of the business, and ever changing family circumstances as children mature and grandparents age. Landscaped spaces are integrated throughout the whole project to offer respite within the city and support the cultivation of vegetables and flowers.
Building code regulations dictate a plan with minimal glazing on the side-yard property lines and the need for non-combustible cladding and materials. The shared driveway to the north of the property reduces the ground floor plan by four feet. It determines the location of the link and the need for a cantilevered piano nobile.
The board-form concrete and corrugated metal complement the language of the surrounding industrial sheds and work within the budget constraints of the project. Used as both structure and finished material, the concrete slabs and walls provide thermal mass for passive solar energy received during the afternoon and morning and time-of-day electrical metering. Wood decks, soffits and stairs unfold throughout the building, creating planters on the roof and flower beds at grade.
Conventional spaces within the house are reconsidered. Children’s bedrooms are conceived as compact private cubbies with sliding doors, much like sleeper cars on a train, offering small, cozy spaces for sleep that encourage integration with the household at other times. The courtyard functions as a sheltered winter parking space, children’s play area, outdoor workspace, and flower garden. Every part of the plan is accessible, with growing areas on all the roofs. Raising the living spaces above the ground floor improves light, provides views, and lends privacy from the everyday life of the street.
On a macro level, this project re-imagines the limiting site conditions typically found in Halifax – namely, long and narrow Victorian lots – and creates a new mixed use urban typology based on a modern rendition of the side hall plan. Stretching the form across the site allows daylight into the plan and ground-floor access to multiple units through an inner courtyard.
Layering dwelling, working and cultivation into this tight city lot, the project, at its small scale, suggests ways of recalibrating our cities to integrate an edible second nature, creating spaces that are aesthetically pleasing, aromatic, educational and productive, and actively participating in the densification and livability of the city.