Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Martin Tessler, Andrew Latrielle and Nic Lehoux

Architecture Designer of the Year 2015: Measured

The team at Measured Architecture creates their own brand of West Coast modernism.

When Measured Architecture won the Architecture category in our first Designers of the Year Awards back in 2008, the judges had their attention focused on quality, not quantity. Good thing, because the firm was just two years old and had barely completed three projects, two of which were homes for partner Clinton Cuddington and co-founder Matthew Woodruff.

Well, seven years later, Woodruff has left to form his own firm while Cuddington was joined (in 2009) by current partner Piers Cunnington, but Measured’s work has drawn many of the same reactions from a completely different set of judges. In giving the firm’s entry 24 points out of a possible 25, Jeremy Sturgess cited the “understanding of detail: sophisticated, sublime and explicit.” For his part, Tom Kundig noted the “smart space layouts” and “strong connection between inside and out.”

western living designers of the year 2015
Measured Architecture’s Clinton Cuddington (left) and Piers Cunnington in front of their “Rough House” design. The firm practises “situational modernism,” which elevates the clients and their needs alongside the site considerations and design orthodoxies that modernism is sometimes accused of favouring. (Photo by Martin Tessler.)

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Measured now has a few more projects to its name, including the three recently completed residences, all located in Vancouver, seen here. One is a hang-the-expense exercise in perfecting the urban retreat. Extensively published, the Cloister House recently won an inaugural City of Vancouver Urban Design Award for best small home. A second residence, Grade House, highlights an ability to build affordably while staying true to the firm’s belief in what Cunnington calls “situational modernism,” which elevates the clients and their needs alongside the site considerations and design orthodoxies that modernism is sometimes accused of favouring. And a third residence, Rough House, extends themes developed with Cloister House while blending in an even stronger emphasis on artisanal creativity, and all of this in a residence tailored to the needs of a growing family.     

With Cloister House, Cuddington and Cunnington (yes, their similar names do cause all sorts of confusion) found themselves reconsidering much of what we might think we know about residential architecture. To begin, the house, although located on a standard city block, is the part-time retreat of a privacy-craving woman whose primary residence is on an isolated island but who has grandchildren in town. Among the implications evident in the finished product are the exterior palette of minimal-maintenance rough concrete, charred fir and raw steel; a layout that has the home focusing on an interior courtyard rather than the street or potential views; an ultra-high level of energy efficiency achieved despite no telltale signs; and loads of whimsical touches, including an indoor slide for the grandkids that can later be converted to a stair lift. “It’s a house where the tiniest minutiae were considered,” says Cuddington.

Click to Launch the Cloister House Gallery

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Conversely, with Grade House the challenge had more to do with sticking to a standard-issue budget while giving the clients—a landscape architect and a physics professor—the intensely rational and solutions-oriented home they desired. The fundamental move was to eschew the basement level, which cut down on square footage but closely knitted an outdoor area into the home while allowing for a higher quality of both spaces and detailing. Cunnington calls this “a single-speed bike,” made from highly functional components that happen to be both fewer and less expensive.

With Rough House, the architects did something that architects aren’t always inclined toward: they stepped back a little and invited collaborating designers and tradespeople to pitch in with ideas and idiosyncratic touches. The form and floor plan came from the architects, of course, borrowing in some ways from the Cloister House and using a similar exterior palette. (One significant deviation, with potential implications for other homes: while the kids got the upstairs bedrooms as usual, the master suite for the parents landed in the climatically appropriate basement, which, accordingly, received lots of special attention, including enhanced connections to the outdoors.)

Click to Launch the Rough House Gallery

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Inside, virtually every corner of the home features details and finishes that reflect the collaborative approach. For example, given rein to tile away as they saw fit, the multimedia artists and artisans at Dear Human contributed two different motifs, one involving hexagons, another drawing from needlepoint. Cunnington thinks that, to observers, the themes and inspirations involved need not be explicit or direct, “like an ice pick to the head,” but rather can remain open to interpretation or simply gazed upon as looking really cool.

And here’s what can happen when the inmates run the asylum. (Forgive the analogy, but there is a view, less than rare among builders and tradespeople, that some architects function as domineering Nurse Ratcheds.) When it came time to plant Rough House’s prescribed landscaping materials, the installer noticed that growing conditions didn’t completely align with the plan. With the architects’ permission, he was encouraged to use his considerable expertise to switch things up as he saw fit. The plants he duly installed—fescue grasses instead of deer ferns, where sunlight dictated—took their places alongside hexagonal pavers chosen by yet another conspirator—Owen Black of Aloe Design—in homage to Dear Human’s tiles inside.

Click to Launch the Cleft House Gallery

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