Alchemy is the transmutation of a base material into something more valuable. A central principle of the Shor House on Mayne Island is a kind of alchemical transformation of dis-used wood obtained from multiple sources. Just as the most energy efficient building is conserving one already built, the most progressive edge of designing with wood is to recycle it into continued use. The Shor House demonstrates that careful deconstruction of wooden buildings, then refinishing and recombination of their parts into considered assemblies extends the life-cycle of material otherwise destined for landfill. This is the new leading edge of design in wood.
This project was constructed with a strong mandate to operate sensitively on the land to minimize the scar of construction. Much of the recycled lumber comes from the house and barn which once sat on this waterfront site, with an ideal orientation facing slightly west of south, looking across Navy Channel towards Pender Island. These two structures were unbuilt by a dismantling rather than demolition contractor, at first without a clear idea of their final use in the new building. The cladding, floors and frame were captured so the patina of age and wear could lend authenticity for their reincarnation in the new house. It goes without saying that there are substantial energy savings in using wood that has never left the site. This project is a test bed of recycling a zero-take approach.
The design team extended their search for recycled building materials further away from the site. Yellow cedar ties were found from the dismantled Englewood Railroad on Northern Vancouver Island which ran from 1917-2017, then milled for use. Additional framing and finishing lumber was sourced from the former Turner Dairy, in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood for use throughout the house including exposed NLT flooring and the feature staircase.
The architect describes this years-long process of scouting for materials and working with deconstruction specialists this way: “There was a whole set of site assets that we needed to harvest and use a patchwork quilt that we threaded back together.”
It received the A+ Award for "Best Sustainable Private House" in the Popular Choice category.
Much of the aesthetic of the Shor House was the result of a 50th birthday present to the Architect from his wife: a visit to sculptor Donald Judd’s Marfa compound in a converted Texas air station. Judd’s minimal sculpture was impressive to him, but the architect opines that the straightforward re-use of the military buildings, and Judd’s own practical and basic furniture here set a model for what he wanted in this retreat Accordingly, the massing of the house is simplicity itself: a straight salt box with the gabled end facing the water, almost entirely glazed. But looking carefully, this proves to be a deflected salt box with an asymmetry of roof slopes, with one angle chosen to maximize the efficiency of the array of 32 solar panels (hardly visible anywhere on site.) This decision also brings more visual dynamism to the great room inside, with its always-visible wood structure. The house uses no drywall at all, because there is no way to recycle this constant candidate for landfill, but it does boast venetian plaster walls and use of local black Carmanah marble. The previously painted exterior cladding lines many interior walls, painted a standard white to reflect light while also parging over marks, knots and defects. There is new wood in the house, but much of it is charred with a Shou Sugi Ban treatment, its low maintenance surface an analogue to the corten steel used outside.
Making gold out of lead was the ultimate goal for the alchemists, but at its basis, their magic was more spiritual than chemical. The alchemy of the Shor House is to build from a palette of otherwise discarded or under-used materials, shaping a dwelling that is grounded to site in its very materials, and the strong historical narratives that adhere to them. The house is a collage which imparts unexpected importance to its components, carefully proportioned and set in adjacency.
Measured Architecture is a Vancouver-based studio practice focused on modern design, interiors and landscapes. From our inception in 2007, we have delivered exceptional public and private environments that are stimulating to occupy and fundamental to their surroundings. Founding principal Clinton Cuddington was joined by Piers Cunnington in 2009. Since that time, Measured has created a portfolio of work that demonstrates an ability to craft considered, innovative and quality projects.
We practice situational modernism — a subject-based, humanist approach that considers a project through the aspirations of a client, the opportunities of a site and the constraints of a municipality, budget and schedule. We work to understand these need sets and move forward to create ideal spaces based on these criteria. Thoughtfulness and flow permeate our firm’s designs, as projects shape into backdrops for our clients that are at once functional and aesthetic.