Text description provided by the architects. HOUSE ON THE BENCH is the third house that was designed for our clients, who engaged us to assist them to find a site on the Naramata bench that would accommodate lake views, a small vineyard, and their program for a vacation house. After reviewing a number of relatively conventional properties, we were shown this site, which was undervalued due to the complexity of the site condition. The 2.5-acre, once forgotten site, reads as two parts. The upper half consists of an open shallow slope that has become a vineyard. The lower portion drops off into a deep forested gorge where the Naramata Creek runs below. The house projects out reaching over the gorge with panoramic views towards Lake Okanagan to the west.
The remarkable qualities of the landscape and its surrounding context generated the conceptual strategy for this project. Originally neglected and deemed unusable for a house, the project embraces the existing site conditions and uses its unique qualities to create a heightened living experience for the client — a getaway overlooking the Okanagan valley. While the shallow slope portion of the site would have been logical for siting a house, it would leave little space to respect, through cultivation, the fertile land for the production of wine grapes so unique to this area.
HOUSE ON THE BENCH achieves ample space for grape growing by anchoring itself on the edge of the slope, to projecting outward and establishing a place for inhabitation that results in an unparalleled retreat above the valley. With this it simultaneously exploits and respects the land. To achieve this delicate balance, a steel frame, material not typically used for residential application, is utilized - bringing form to the unique house embedded both within and out over its context. Between the gorge and the vineyard, the long narrow house is laid, effectively bridging the gap between the two aspects of the site. On the bench to the east of the site grapes are planted in a north/south orientation to maximize exposure to the sun for optimal growth. The design of the house parallels the vineyard, maximizing natural light into the home and views out to the Lake.
As the bench gives way to the ravine it is re-created to establish a platform for living while respecting the land. From the street, a concrete wall registers the privacy of the realm beyond, while a guest suite overhangs the wall, offering a gesture of welcome. One approaches the house by entering through the wall, to arrive at a framed view of the primary entrance with the vineyard beyond, and ultimately, the lake view opposite.
The garage/guest suite is separated from the main house by a loggia and covered outside living room that will function as part of the house in summer weather. Procession within is through a sequence of tall spaces that embrace the lake, forest and vineyard views. The enfilade of rooms becomes narrower and more private as it moves northward, culminating in the main bedroom that opens dramatically onto a cantilevered terrace vista overlooking the gorge and the rushing river below.
A single black box is extruded from within the pure, two-storey volume to house true private spaces such as the master bath and storage. In order to blur the distinction of the man-made structure in its natural desert context, the house is an extension of the bench formally and through its materiality of weathered steel cladding and black stained wood. The house is anchored back to the land where the vineyard lies, and board-form concrete evokes the sedimentary layering of the exposed soil where the steel frame projects out into space over the ravine.