Whistler, British Columbia, is known for one thing above all else: snow. This resort town north of Vancouver served as the host of the skiing events for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and despite a permanent population just shy of 10,000 inhabitants, boasts 2 million visitors per year, most of them during the winter. Which makes the Hadaway House, designed by Vancouver-based Patkau Architects, all the more notable for the fact that its engineer-trained client built the house to escape the heat of Hong Kong summers. That’s right, summers. So the majority of the time that the house is occupied, there is nary a flurry, flake, nor snowboard in sight.
But that seasonal inversion isn’t the only thing that makes this non-orthogonal manse different from other Patkau-designed houses. “We’ve done lots of geometrically complex projects, but this is the most three-dimensional that we have ever done,” principal John Patkau, hon. faia, says. While the architects usually begin the design process from the inside out, allowing programming needs to lead the way, this house was designed in reverse: Strict guidelines in the suburban community regulated everything from height, to setbacks, to exterior materials, so determining the form of the envelope first was key.
The architects began this process by creating a series of cardboard models which they then translated into 3D using Rhino. From there, the interior spaces were laid out to maximize spatial efficiency and views to the summer mountain landscape. This interior organization, in turn, influenced the placement of windows and glazed panels that open the house up to the prevailing summer breezes. Those that look out onto the valley below the cliffside site are expansive; those apertures facing the rest of the development are more narrow and hidden behind slats in the neighborhood-designated wood cladding. (Cedar boards conceal a metal skin underneath.) But even though it wears the same materials palette as its neighbors, the Hadaway House is still an outlier: “It’s a spaceship in the middle of log cabins,” Patkau says.
That sculptural form that makes it so “other” conceals a complex quilt of structural systems—fitting for an informed client, but also elegant in its ability to address the unique challenges of the environment. “It’s not very architectural in that there’s not a coherent structural system for the building,” Patkau says. “Instead, it’s very pragmatic.”
The lowest level is a concrete slab with concrete walls—which provides a thermal mass that helps to regulate temperature throughout the structure. The upper levels are formed from steel and heavy timber framing, infilled with a lighter wood frame. The combination of these systems was not to add complexity, but rather to increase efficiency, to mitigate the significant lateral forces that need to be accounted for in this intense seismic zone, and to deal with the vertical forces of snowloads that can be in excess of 15 feet per year. The slope of the roof is designed to shed snow onto areas of the site that will not impact pedestrians or egress from the house.
The approach of programming the interior into a set volume “resulted in some things that I think are successful, but we never would have come up with had we done things in our conventional way,” Patkau says, including “some spaces that are remarkable and unpredictable.” Few walls meet at right angles, and at one point, a bridge over a vast open living area connects one set of bedrooms to another amid views of the valley to the northwest.
But the materials palette also marks a departure for the architects—a client-driven selection of a dark floor and dark mullions against the bright white gypsum walls “is more high contrast than is our norm,” Patkau says, although he is pleased with the final result. The porcelain tile floor on the lower two levels is intended to be resistant to the water and salt that can be tracked in during the winter, whereas wood floors bring warmth to the living quarters.
“We’ve never been lucky enough to build a house in the same place twice,” Patkau says of his firm’s diverse residential portfolio. But “the opportunity to work on a very well-constructed project” makes learning each locale, be it a summer or winter one, worthwhile.
Project: Hadaway House, Whistler, British Columbia
Client: Martin and Sue Hadaway
Architects: Patkau Architects, Vancouver, British Columbia—John Patkau, Hon. FAIA, Patricia Patkau, Hon. FAIA, Lawrence Grigg, Stephanie Coleridge, Marc Holland, Peter Suter, Shane O’Neil, Mike Green (project team)