Whytecliff West Vancouver

West Vancouver British Columbia

The site for this home is a wooded north facing oceanfront lot with unimpeded views up West Vancouver’s Howe Sound, a glacial fjord. Steeply sloping mountains form the eastern boundary to the view, with lower emerald islands to the west. The southern half of this ½ acre lot is forested with several mature Douglas Fir, over 100’ high, interspersed with the remains of an overgrown west coast garden of Rhododendra, Cherry trees, and ferns. The site is approximately 25 minutes drive from Downtown Vancouver.

The client (an artist and gardener) provided us a brief to create a house that would function like an umbrella- after years of living in a leaking 1970’s west coast cedar home, she wanted protection from both the rain and sun. The caveat was that the house had to maintain connection to the view and the garden. Initial explorations into more traditional gable roofs were put aside in favour of a butterfly roof that would permit the sun from the southwest, filtered through the forest, to find its way deep into the house, and open the house to the view and the light to the water.

All living spaces were positioned on the north side, facing the view. However, the view could not be sacrificed from any of these rooms to make room for shear walls, so necessary in our seismically prone west coast. An innovative structural approach was needed to allow the glass front to remain shear-wall free.

Structural concept:

Structural engineers Fast+Epp were engaged to develop solutions with Burgers Architecture.

1. Shearwalls: the first, and easiest, reaction was to include shearwalls selectively on view side of house. This would have required a minimum of 10’ of shearwall on the bottom and top floor. This concept was considered unviable because no rooms could sacrifice a view.

2. Central anchor/moment: Fast+Epp developed an alternative solution to shear by turning the fireplace into a heavy moment anchor in the centre of the house. This would have required a 3’ thick concrete foundation, minimum 12’ x 12’, and extending this from the footings to the top of the roof with heavy, cast concrete rigid walls. The roof would then be tied into this moment anchor via steel strapping and hold downs. Rejected for the extreme volume of concrete required and the cost of construction.

3. X-brace in centre of glass wall: X-bracing, composed of 1” thick steel rods, was the lightest, and least expensive option. When it was initially proposed to the client, she liked the idea but didn’t want a “Big X” in front of of the living room windows, as it precluded the idea of including large sliding glass panels in this room. The Eureka moment came when we, the architects, asked holding our breath if we could shove all the bracing to the west end of the home. “Sure” came Duane’s response, “we will load the x-brace eccentrically”. Thus was born the innovative concept of an eccentrically offset x-brace. Finished with stainless steel yacht rigging with hidden threads, the cross brace has become a design feature in the home.