Minimalist Home Near Vancouver Converges on PhilanthropyJames S. Russell
The Quadra Island home of philanthropists Eric Peterson and Christina Munck is perched on a volcanic outcropping like an elongated periscope -- a sleek apparatus for viewing this tumultuous landscape 100 miles north of the Canadian city of Vancouver.
The jagged sheets of steel, frameless planes of glass and honed concrete walls that collide in the 420-square-meter (4,500-square-foot) structure suggest the fractured forms of Wassily Kandinsky, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Summer 2013 issue. In fact, all those acute angles were inspired by the tangle of storm-tossed logs on the rugged beach below.
In 1990, Peterson co-founded Mitra Imaging Inc., a Waterloo, Ontario, medical-software firm. After selling Mitra to Belgium-based Agfa-Gevaert NV in 2002 for 205 million euros ($263 million), he and his botanist wife relocated to coastal British Columbia, where Peterson grew up. They have since devoted themselves to their nonprofit Tula Foundation, headquartered on the island’s east coast and dedicated to environmental research and to education and health care in remote communities.
On Quadra, they also decided to make a home, and in husband-and-wife architects John and Patricia Patkau they found a cerebral, like-minded pair perfectly in step with the factual, data-driven world of scientific research in which the owners once worked.
On a rain-drenched day, Peterson drives John Patkau and me along a densely forested road before suddenly wheeling his Nissan SUV around a basalt hump carpeted with moss. The house and beach are barely visible through mature firs and maples. A lichen-covered rock wall leads to an intimate courtyard under sharply pointed roof extensions that stretch overhead like hands. Amid slabs of concrete so white and smooth they resemble otherworldly stone, a shallow pond ripples with harvested rainwater.
“We call it the Five Site House because of its many landscape aspects,” Patkau says as he walks us inside. Planes of white concrete splay outward, and a glass curtain wall in the living room beckons with a panorama of water, islands and mountains. The view from an adjacent office for Peterson draws the eye to a tumble of boulders that extend north, while a window in the floor reveals a close-up of bluff, moss and driftwood.
The kitchen zooms off to the southwest so that the expanse of glass at its farthest end, above a banquette, can frame views of a hidden inlet that fills and empties with the tide. A long wall is covered in Munck’s beloved tropical plants -- a lushly tactile contrast to the uncompromising ruggedness outdoors.
No one knew at the beginning of the process that the house would take a year to design -- and six to build.
“Christina and Eric were very patient,” Vancouver-based Patkau says, referring to the painstaking precision that left the clients, builders and architects wondering whether the house would ever be finished.
Munck and Peterson finally moved in last September, and they say they appreciate not only the ever-changing views but also the way the house monitors the movement of the sun and the seasons. Skylights cast tree branch shadows onto the concrete walls. In summer, the mosses fade and the grasses yellow.
There are only three bedrooms, and they are the home’s real refuge, Peterson says. The Patkaus outfitted all three with windows that rise from the floor only to a height comfortable for viewing from bed -- an unexpected choice that, for the first time on our tour, subverts the surroundings rather than showcasing them.
Says Peterson, “You don’t always have to be looking.”
(James S. Russell writes on architecture for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. He is the author of “The Agile City.” The opinions expressed are his own.)
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