“If joy is to be found in the ordinary, the things we have in common are a stronghold of resistance in a troubled world.”
- Luis Fernandez-Galiano, Architects are Commoners
Amidst soaring housing cost and urban densification throughout Greater Vancouver, the once derided vancouver specials have regained their popularity in recent years. Apart from their typical box-like structure, low pitched roofs and narrow balconies, what makes this notorious, mass-produced housing typology “special” is their layout, with the secondary bedrooms on the ground floor and the main living space above, connected by a stair directly accessed from the front foyer. There is no basement in vancouver specials, making them ideal for conversion into secondary suite. For young families desiring a lawn for their children and would not mind sharing with another household, vancouver specials offer an affordable entry point to the detached housing market, with the potential of a mortgage helper or co-ownership with relatives or in-laws.
The Yamamoto sisters and their respective spouses understood these potentials when they co-purchased and initiated the renovation of their new home. Their challenge, however, lies in the shortage of space: four adults and four young children would share a 2,500 sq.ft. house on a standard 33 foot wide lot, and both families spend a great deal of time together. On regular dinner parties, the families would gather in the bottom half of the house, to which a third bedroom, a half-bathroom and a kid’s play area would have to be added in the renovation.
To overcome space deficiency, we reclaim portion of the corridor and below-stair storage for the added programs, and create circulation “through” the walls by turning portions of which into sliding partitions. The new penetration provides a direct connection – both visually and spatially – from the living area to the bedrooms, and allows each to act as the breakout space for the others. By further removing stud walls that divided the length of the building, a flexible living area is created. A long kitchen island is now situated in the centre of this space, and to its front and back, a play area for the children and a lounge for the grown-ups naturally fall into place.
Like many home renovations of similar scope and budget, the YamaDuff & YamaRoth Residence Project has adopted a basic solution to solve a basic problem – namely, to bypass or break through walls in exchange for openness and flexibility. Ostentatious architectural interventions are not justified in cost, but also undesirable. “We want this house to resemble an experimental theatre, somewhat impromptu, so it leaves room for improvisation.” the Owners explained. On that note, we have conceived the layers of sliding partitions as theatrical backdrops: their positions would indicate the time and activities within the space. Shortly after the completion of the project, we had visited the house twice – one for a dinner party and the other for a photo shoot. We have observed that not only do the sliders add much delight to the space, but what they have revealed behind is a candid image of the family itself. Staring at the cheerful decorations within the children’s bedrooms, or looking back at the well-inhabited kitchen, we were struck in awe of how fast life can take over, and for a brief moment, could not detect where architecture ends and life begins.
Contractor: Solidwood Home
Cabinet Designer: Kerf Design
Photographer: Ray Sun Photography