Standing at 6th and Willow in Vancouver’s Fairview Slopes area, a newly completed townhouse complex presents a rugged, weathered steel face to the street. This screen – through which tenants enjoy a view of the greenway across 6th – gives the project its distinct character, both as a good neighbour within the larger context and as a building that fosters a sense of community among its individual units. “We wanted to make sure you bump into your neighbours,” says Michael Green, whose firm designed the project. To encourage this interaction, residents enter the double row of townhouses via a central courtyard. Planted with Japanese maples and fitted out with stone block benches that incorporate lighting, this common area provides a space for gatherings of all sorts.
While creating a sense of separation from the city bustle, the screen also allows the complex to blend in with the neighbourhood. It does so by making the townhouses appear flush with the sidewalk (and in line with a neighbouring building) even if the elevation is pulled back from it, providing some distance between residents and passersby.
Blending with the streetscape is just one of many ways MGA’s design responds to the specific qualities of the site: it also considers the modern sensibilities of the area and the orientation of the sun. Natural light fills each unit, which display an intelligent use of space – a must in Vancouver, where space is at a premium. The interiors are classically simple, a canvas for each homeowner to adapt to their individual style. Oak floors, natural stone and white walls evoke a clean yet warm palette.
The manner in which the two townhouse rows are aligned along the long central courtyard makes evident Green’s inspiration for this project, Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute. Here, inside their steel encasements, the buildings are constructed with wood frames – an unusual choice for townhouses, but one that is characteristic of Green’s work. He is well known for his sustainable applications of wood as a primary building material, as also seen in his upcoming Wood Innovation Design Centre, in Prince George, B.C. – a six-storey structure that serves as a show piece for sustainable wood construction and utilizes technology capable of realizing a building five times that height.