A house backing onto Ancaster Creek provides the virtues of privacy and comfort, while making room for the family elders to age in place.
A wide lot backing onto Ancaster Creek is the site for an inter-generational home. In a suburban area designated the Ancaster Creek subwatershed, the house is located at the back of the property near the creek, respecting the meander line to avoid the floodplain of the watercourse.
The house was conceived as two distinct residences, one for each generation, formed into linear bars containing the full program of a home. The bars sit perpendicular to each other, creating a landscaped courtyard set back from the street, and stacking at the corner.
The parent’s suite occupies the ground floor with the living space anchoring the view. The suite is laid out as a single floor accessible apartment with added features to accommodate the specific challenges facing the ageing parents. Among them, well-located drains and a master power switch mitigate issues that have come with memory loss: a sink left running, or an oven left on.
Running parallel to the creek is the main residence. At the south end of the house, the kitchen is set in a double height volume opening to the creek, courtyard, and the sky. The living and dining rooms are shared family spaces for gathering. The small second floor acts as a private suite with a family room, library, and bathroom complimenting a light-filled cantilevered bedroom that reaches out into the best views of the creek.
With sustainability at the forefront of the design process, the requirement of material durability was paramount. Careful detailing of local materials achieves this. The ground floor of the house is clad in 3-1/2” thick Algonquin limestone. The coursing is designed to highlight the compression that forms this sedimentary rock. 12” tall stones at the top compress to 4” at the bottom. The horizontal joints are raked deep to emphasize the horizontality.
Milled cedar clads the upper volumes of the house. The boards were milled with thin shadow lines that create depth in the material and emphasize their verticality. A three-part finishing system extends the life of the wood and reduces the required maintenance work.
Pairing cedar cladding and local limestone on the exterior with white oak floors, cabinetry and spiral stair on the interior, connects this modern house to an ancient Southern Ontario landscape. Wood’s inherent warmth, strength, lightness, and malleability combine to create everything from the structural framework for the house to a variety of finish conditions.
The figural spiral staircase connects the living room to the second-floor suite. The curvature opens as it rises and becomes the ceiling of the adjacent wing, connecting it to the parents’ suite and tying the spaces together. Structured with laminated plywood, the curved railings become structural elements that bridge between the floors. Two thin curved steel plates were required for strength, but they are connected across with the wood risers and treads effectively treating the tight, inner spiral as a post.
As issues of sustainability have become a prevailing driver of innovation in the field of architecture, they are often relegated to those values that are empirical. However, what are the measurements that speak to the quality of life that can change the current paradigm of housing for the elderly and allow a family to age in place? Accessibility, community, and green space become a new set of criteria that we can use to develop solutions to an issue that we are all facing.
It is not, “Can we live under one roof?” but instead, “Given that we are going to live under one roof, how do we do it best?” By creating two separate houses with their own entries, kitchens and living spaces, while making shared spaces that embrace the local landscape, we have addressed a family’s needs for both privacy and communality.
To reduce the ecological footprint, energy consumption and generation were both addressed. Primarily, two families are now living on a single lot, increasing density without increasing building area. Triple-pane windows anchor the highly insulated envelope, while a 9.8 kW solar array was installed across two of the flat roofs, offsetting energy consumption. Combined with LED lighting and an efficient heating system, these measures culminate in a low-energy home that sits comfortably in this Northern climate. Collectively, this results in a EUI of 94 ekWh/m², which was calculated during the first year of occupancy, exceeding the permit year target energy reduction for single family homes for the 2030 challenge.
Williamson Williamson is the architecture and design studio led by Betsy Williamson, OAA, and Shane Williamson, Associate Professor and Director of the Daniels Faculty’s Master of Architecture program at the University of Toronto. With work ranging from furniture and installations to master plans and buildings, we resist a singular design methodology in favor of an adaptable approach to an increasingly diverse set problems confronted by the studio. We can identify in our work an emphasis upon employing advanced digital tools as a means to engage architectural craft, as expressed through the synthesis of emerging technologies with traditional methods of construction. Ongoing research seeks to situate digital fabrication and wood construction in a broader cultural context and link theories of design and technology respective of sustainable building strategies.