For some 25 years, architect and professor Brian MacKay-Lyons of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects has used the town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, as a platform for teaching architecture and urbanism, both at Dalhousie University and through numerous teaching chairs at universities abroad. His message to the next generation of practitioners is that good architecture starts with urban design. The best urban places consist mainly of modest buildings, aggregated to make a consistent urban fabric. So, with B2 Lofts, a mixed use, urban infill development, in the heart of Lunenburg, he was able to practice what he preaches as both an architect and a developer. Located on lands previously inhabited by Mi’kmaq and Acadians, and on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Lunenburg emerged as a center for port activities. Today it is one of only two UNESCO World Heritage towns in North America, and widely considered the best preserved planned British colonial settlements in North America. Its brightly-colored, well-preserved, handcrafted timber buildings, relate to 18th- and 19th-century fishing, shipping and shipbuilding traditions. Therefore, Lunenburg makes a good place to study the relationship between tradition and modernity; to prove that one can build modern architecture in a highly constrained, historic, urban context. This is a place for architectural restraint, propriety, and good manners. B2 Lofts consists of a renovated historical building and an adjacent new building on a narrow lot. It includes two street level commercial spaces, one of which houses MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architect’s Lunenburg studio, and six loft-style apartments above. At first glance, one might be forgiven for not distinguishing between the new and the old structures – not because the modern one attempts to emulate or nostalgically quote historical elements or styles, but rather because it learns from them. B2 Lofts demonstrates the architects’ study of traditional architectural language and construction techniques, admiration for their proven resilience, intelligence and spare economy and translation of these elements into a modern expression. The project adds to the street without calling attention to itself. Its design adds one more, cross-grain, gambrel-roofed warehouse to a streetscape containing several more historic gambrels. B2 Lofts encompasses the use of locally sourced wood materials and labor. Inside and out, its wood walls, roof, and custom-crafted, traditional wood windows echo the material culture of Lunenburg. Its through-block plan addresses the traditional shopfronts on Montague Street and the pragmatic, waterfront-industrial architectural language of Bluenose Drive. Its dynamic, pin-wheeling asymmetrical, façade compositions, consisting of pop-scaled fenestration and barn doors, give the buildings a plain modern effect. Inside, delicate, spiderweb-like roof trusses in the loft apartments refer to the metal trades attendant to the shipbuilding tradition.
MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is primarily based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada with field offices in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Oregon, and Massachusetts. The practice works locally and internationally on cultural, academic and residential projects, providing full architectural, urban design, and interior design services. In over 30 years of work, the practice has built an international reputation for design excellence confirmed by over 150 awards, including the 2017 Global Award for Sustainable Architecture and the RAIC Firm Award in 2014. The firm’s work has been featured internationally in over 700 publications and 100 exhibitions.