Where Poetic Expression Meets Science: Wallace Street House

Located on Canada’s temperate west coast in a Vancouver neighborhood primarily zoned for single family homes, Wallace Street House is a study in balance.

This house was one of the final projects by Campos Leckie Studio before Michael Leckie ventured into solo practice; he is now the Principal and Founder of Leckie Studio Architecture + Design Inc. An academic as much as he is a practitioner—Leckie often presents lectures and works as a guest thesis advisor with the University of British Columbia School of Landscape and Landscape Architecture—the architect is methodical about his design process.

“The house itself, and its form and ultimate shape, were derived through a fairly rigorous process of environmental research and testing to understand the energy performance of the house,” says Leckie. This included energy modeling to understand envelope energy consumption, as well as day-lighting performance.

As with any of his projects, Leckie approached Wallace Street House with a careful evaluation of the physical and environmental aspects of the site, such as its climate and orientation, as well as the various urban, social, political, and community considerations at a larger scale.

The house sits on a corner lot, which provided certain challenges; how was the firm to achieve a sense of privacy while also satisfying the need for natural light on the interior?

The fact that the team was able to strike such a balance, says Leckie, is the deliberate result of the energy modeling and day-lighting studies. “We understand the size, proportion, and location of window openings and glazed openings in the beginning,” he explains. They also considered occupancy patterns throughout the day and year from both an interior and exterior perspective. “That process informs the way we design and place openings and apertures.”

Privacy was established by leading the eye, calling attention to certain aspects of the landscape and distinguishing between foreground, midground, and background details.

Wallace Street House is located in a Vancouver neighborhood zoned with certain heritage considerations that must come into play when building. The studio’s response was to approach the project from a traditional standpoint, while making subtle adjustments relating to the functional program of the house. They worked from the abstract or generalized form of a pitched-roof house, with one of the non-subtle modifications being to skew the roofline a little. This aesthetic choice was not without utility. “The gutters on the roof have been integrated into the roof plane and through the wall, and have beautiful detail in the way they penetrate out,” says Leckie.

The general shape of the house makes use of an overarching playfulness with corners: a corner lot, an elevated rear corner, corner decks, and even a corner pool. This was achieved through a subtractive process, Leckie explains. He likens this to “carving” the exterior’s abstracted volume, allowing the designer to create spaces that exist at a more human scale and blur the line between interior and exterior space.

Materials and methods selected for the house were chosen to honor the strong Japanese presence on the West Coast. Of particular note is the charred cedar on the exterior cladding, which lends a handcrafted aspect to the home. It also provides a kind of durability and is relatively low maintenance. The look was achieved through the Japanese technique of Shou Sugi Ban — that is, charring cedar with a flame. This technique was performed by the contractor and, while admittedly laborious, Leckie describes it as having yielded “extremely beautiful results.”

When asked whether there is a particular element of Wallace Street House of which Leckie is particularly proud, he points to several elements — again, the clever use of the roof gutter, as well the house’s concrete volume — before landing on one single, encompassing achievement. “The poetic expression of the project,” he says.

All photos are courtesy of Campos Leckie Studio. Photography by John Sinal.