This is the first in a series of longish blog posts about the process of building our house on Pender Island. If I’m sufficiently dedicated, one of these should appear every couple of weeks for the next two years. These posts are likely to be longer and more contemplative than the other writing on this site. And, obviously, they’re concerned with the process of building a house on an island. If that doesn’t float your boat, skip ’em.
Before we left for Malta, we had our first meeting with John Gower, our architect. He came highly recommended from a friend, and specializes in building “modestly-sized, comfortable homes, beautifully and simply designed”, often in remote locations. His company, after all, is called “BC Mountain Homes”. Additionally, we liked the aesthetic of a number of his modern house designs. Finally, he’d previously worked on Pender Island, and so was familiar with the local planning process and knew of some options for general contractors
During that meeting, John gave us a ‘home design questionnaire’. It had twenty questions designed to make us think about what kind of home we wanted. These weren’t, as you might expect, questions like “how do you feel about gabled roofs?” Instead, they were big picture questions like “how can this home enrich your relationship with your community?” There were questions about our relationships to and views on family, food, hobbies, passions, technology and so forth.
As this is the first house I’ve built, I don’t know how common this approach is. Some might find these questions worryingly abstract, but I was actually encouraged. I’d much prefer an architect who considers these issues, and attempts to understand who we are, than one who simply starts sketching.
We had lots of time (a year abroad before anything else was going to happen on the house). We took pains to answer the questions as honestly and thoroughly as we could. After all, they seemed like the foundation (pun probably intended) on which the house design would be based.
We ended up with ten pages of notes and images. John remarked that this was more than most of his clients offered. I was reminded of a technique I learned about in theatre school, and thought it could be applied here. From our answers:
When Darren was taking Directing in theatre school, he learned a technique which may apply here. In early creative meetings, the set, costume and lighting designers would would use visual metaphors from other mediums to express what they thought the play was about. A costume designer might find inspiration for costuming Hamlet from, say, MonetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Water Lillies. Obviously the designer doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to cover Hamlet in flowers, but takes something from the mood, tone or colour palette of the artwork.
We intentionally didn’t include any images of houses or architecture. Instead, we picked images that expressed something of how we might want our future house to feel. For example, we included Colville’s “To Prince Edward Island” “its mood, colour palette and the sense of infinity in the horizon and binoculars”. We even linked to a couple bits of video, admiring the sparseness and fluidity of this dance piece by La La La Human Steps (looking at it again, I like the tension between naturalness of the set and lighting, and the kind of rigid formality of the dancers).
In future discussions, these images can hopefully become reference points and litmus tests: “does the shape of this room capture the mood of the Colville painting?”
There were two interesting technology-related tidbits that came out during this first meeting as well:
- John uses Google SketchUp for the collaborative stages of the design process. This enables clients to get (and presumably sign off on ) a 3-D view of their home before he does the actual drafting.
- He sometimes exports the house designs into Second Life, enabling future home owners to walk around a virtual version of their future home.
The next House Diary entry will be about our first visit to the property with our architect.