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White Rock architect wins top design award

Luminescence, a lakeside home in Kelowna, won White Rock architect David Tyrell top honours for best home of 2011 at the annual Canadian Home Builders Association of B.C. awards.  - Contributed photo
Luminescence, a lakeside home in Kelowna, won White Rock architect David Tyrell top honours for best home of 2011 at the annual Canadian Home Builders Association of B.C. awards.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Architecture has always been, historically, a branch of the arts – as much a distinctive hallmark of successive creative eras as the painting, music and literature of the times.

In the case of many ancient civilizations, ranging from the Greco-Roman cities of the Mediterranean to the stunning constructions of archaic Peru, it’s architecture that is one of the most visible manifestations of a culture.

Private residences, from the classical and neo-classical mansions of Europe to the 20th century commissions of Frank Lloyd Wright, have been no less celebrated.

But in an era of homebuilding typified by mass production, cost-cutting and an overwhelming desire to maximize usage of building lots, ideals of scope, thematic unity and taste have often been shouldered aside – and the results have been, in many cases, less than pretty.

Not so with the Kelowna home Luminescence, with which White Rock architect David Tyrell has amply demonstrated that the artistic discipline is alive and well.

Early this year, the luxurious lakeside residence won Tyrell the Grand Tommie Award for best home of 2011 from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of B.C.

It’s also won him coverage in prestigious architecture publications, including Design Bureau, in Chicago, and Les Plus Beaux Interieurs, Paris.

It’s a masterwork of modernism that, nonetheless, takes into full account the scale and beauty of the surrounding landscape, recessing some of the structure into hillside rock (“When you have a beautiful piece of property such as this, it’s an act of respect,” Tyrell said).  Materials include steel and plexiglass, but also such traditional surfaces as polished wood, stone and brick.

As the name suggests, the qualities of light are integral to the design, with large, glassed areas.

A large, impressive entry staircase has been designed around a full-scale Polynesian canoe suspended from the ceiling, a significant piece of family history for the owners.

“The canoe is visually interesting,” Tyrell said. “It’s carved from a single piece of breadfruit tree.”

The sympathetic tactile appeal of Tyrell’s design for the project is implicit in tapering wooden support columns in the main living area that, he reports with a smile, visitors can’t seem to resist running their hands over.

“There’s a family aesthetic to the home – the details of scale and the things you touch,” he said.

It doesn’t hurt that the clients – for whom Tyrell has designed homes before, during the course of a 21-year career – have the means to support such a level of awareness, but it’s not the main determinant, Tyrell said.

“Good architecture is not possible without a sophisticated and trusting client,” he said in his initial statement after the win, which he describes as an honour.

“I was fortunate to have such a couple for this project.”

Inspired to his career at age 15 by the dynamism of the young architect Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the Ottawa-raised Tyrell acknowledges he was the “black sheep” of a sports-oriented family.

He received his professional qualifications at USC in Los Angeles and first came to the Vancouver area in 1988 while working for the Hulbert Group International, which was commissioned to do redevelopment of the Expo lands, before opening his own business, David Tyrell Architect Inc., in 1991.

It’s significant that the architect, who has picked up some two dozen CHBA awards over the years, prior to this first ‘best home of the year’ recognition, is not enamoured of grandness for grandness’ sake.

For 20 years he and his wife, Kristine, and their two children lived happily in a modest 1946 cottage-style home on Marine Drive, which last year won fame – and coverage in the Peace Arch News – when it was extracted from the site, trucked to the Serpentine and shipped by barge to Vancouver Island.

“It was a small home, and we did renovations three times over the years, working with the interior to make it more contemporary. The man who bought the property evidently felt it had a little too much value just to knock it down, and found a buyer for it on the island.

“It was surreal, but a good thing – it’s exciting that the house has a new life and is being accepted elsewhere.”

Tyrell noted that, even with renovations, their home stayed within a 1,500 square foot footprint.

“I’ve often thought the size of a home is irrelevant,” Tyrell said.

“I think families should live closer together. It’s a philosophical thing, when you’re together with your family for such a little length of time.”

Interestingly, the Kelowna project is actually smaller, in terms of living space, than it appears, he said.

“The actual square footage (living space) I’ll venture to say is around 3,000 – the balance of the building is a guest suite, mechanical and storage areas.

“Part of the scale of the home has to do with the site – quite a bit of the mass is necessary to get to the platform where the house sits.”

Tyrell, a long time member of the White Rock Advisory Design Panel, is aware that there is a difference between the kind of architecture he was allowed to do in Kelowna, and “a developers’ spec home.”

But certain principles of the project aren’t dependent on a huge budget, he said, and could be employed just as easily in White Rock or South Surrey.

“A good home is not a box with a bunch of little holes cut in it, that doesn’t meet the needs of the landscape,” he said. “You could take a plan from Saskatchewan and drop it on a hill in White Rock – it happens all the time.

“I just wish we had some more design qualities for single-family homes.”

Intellectual laziness has resulted in a loss of a lot of White Rock’s character, Tyrell said, and it takes developers with foresight to break imitative cycles in home building.

“It doesn’t have to be big to be beautiful,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be expensive – the principles are the same at any scale.”

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