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Arbutus Ridge

Oct 2018 - NowHome & Community

Building a home and community in nature.

In a quest for maximal interesting-ness, Bowen Island presented itself as a perfect next step for our family from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

A few years ago a special group of friends found and invested in a raw land development with the intent of moving our families there and creating a community of our own. In all of our typical fashion, we've been keenly involved in the development more broadly than as owners of our individual parcels. My role has extended beyond just the production of our house and home, but also creating the branding and digital infrastructure to give this development an aspirational identity, which not only serves as a vehicle to find new buyers but a cornerstone of what our future community will represent.

The Land

Circumstances landed us on one acre of SW facing forested, unbuit land. It likely was logged at some point (maybe 100 years ago), but 100ft (30m) Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees stand. The forest floor is rich with history.

In How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand, suggests that through human history the imaginary boundary of municiple lines that divid habited zones are some of the slowest moving and longest lasting remnants of the built environment. In old cities, while the buildings themselves turn over completely on regular occurance, the lines between buildings can be static for thousands of years.

Knowing this, and with my personality and interest, I needed to pay this land (and it's future) great respect. These marks that will take it from chaos to order should be done so in a gentle way and in a way that hopes to loved enough to live on.

Our Home

After self-directed preliminary discovery for designing our home (which was comletely disconnected to the land), we started slowly peeling back the layers of forest to reveal the true nature of where we were going to live. I have many notes on "Forest Cleaning" as I would spend time removing and organizing organic material so that I could better see what this land looked like. Some of this included falling trees, snipping salal, raking, and moving branches. So many branches to move.

Yes, of course, we could have done this faster, but we weren't looking for fast. We wanted to avoid blasting (the land sits atop undulating bedrock of grantie), and we wanted to maximize the sunshine without taking down more trees than neccesary. These huge trees are a liability (a neighbours home was crushed last winter), but they were here first and critical for the health of the forest. We were looking for a natural fit.

The fit we found was inspired by the late Arthur Erikson's Smith House. At focal point of the house a living area / causeway spans across two rocks, with room for a sitting area and fireplace below. The lightness of this 'bridge' is delightful and affords for a seamless flow under and around the house. We noticed we had two mossy rocks, protruding 10ft above a low point between them, about 80ft apart. Not only that, these rocks were already like a gate into the beautiful / sunny area we would always picnic at when we visited the land.

I sent our architect, Simon Montomery, the picture of the Smith house and asked "can we span our house between those two rocks?" He responded, "I can't see why not." And so we did.

This decision acted as the Parti of our design. The forcing function for many decisions, and thankfully so, there are a million decisions to make when building a home. We worked with Simon and Jenny Bassett to design the house and then with our builders on trying to make sure we could afford it. This was hard. Actually, the whole thing is hard. The house have nearly complete is the best we could have done with what we have. Of course, there are details I wish we could have pursued, but the home is special. I can't wait to live there.

Odds and Ends

Aside from the house, I am designing many elements in and around this home. A dining room table, a wood storage box, rock walls, benches, lighting, signs, tables, and many other things to bring it to life. I even couldn't help myself from designing an identity for the community.