Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Martin Tessler

Arthur Erickson Memorial Award 2014: McLeod Bovell Modern Houses

After years of working for others, a partnership is born to help channel homeowners’ dreams into a lyrical medley of glass, wood and concrete.

Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell
Portrait by Evaan Keraj.

 

Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell are, in their own way, authors. The designers, who first met at UBC’s architecture program back in 1996, aren’t writers—putting together their entry package for this year’s Designers of the Year awards just about killed them, they confess—but the homes they create are full of narratives. “There’s all of this information that comes to us, which we synthesize into an idea for a project,” explains McLeod. “The story our clients bring with them, the things they are saying, the things they are not saying—it’s not a bunch of data points. The story is there—and it gets embedded in our work.”

This home’s staircases bring a lightness to the home that keeps the vibe airy and open. Photo by Matt McLeod.
This home’s staircases bring a lightness to the home that keeps the vibe airy and open. Photo by Matt McLeod.

This year’s winners of the Arthur Erickson Memorial Award for an emerging architecture designer are just six years into their own business, with five homes under their collective belts. But they have an admirable pedigree between them: Bovell spent six post-grad years at the noted Lamoureux Architect Incorporated in West Vancouver before deciding she was ready to branch out on her own. It took another two years of lobbying to convince McLeod, who was working with the modernist masters at Battersby Howat, to join her in the new venture; by 2008, they were officially McLeod Bovell Modern Houses. “We basically started it all on the floor of a rental,” laughs McLeod, describing how the duo drafted their first projects with their work spread out across Bovell’s living room floor. “We have a table now.”

McLeod and Bovell say this house, though luxurious, is the simplest they’ve designed. Photo by Martin Tessler.
McLeod and Bovell say this house, though luxurious, is the simplest they’ve designed. Photo by Martin Tessler.

The work that emerges from that table is holistic: the pair also handles the interiors and the landscaping of their projects, ensuring that the joint vision gets translated as faithfully and accurately as possible. As striking as the buildings are themselves (all are built on challengingly steep West Vancouver sites, yet manage to feel as though they unfold in a naturally flat lot), the landscape design and exteriors are just as bold, a feat that judge Patricia Patkau of Patkau Architects commended. “The landscapes in these projects seem to me,” she says, “to produce the most inventive aspects of the work: entrance bridges, retention walls, carefully considered design of planes and outdoor places at different scales and with different options for daily life.”

Modernism can often channel heavy minimalism, but here the duo has taken great steps to soften the lines. The addition of a serene reflecting pool sets the calming tone for visitors entering the house. Photo by Matt McLeod.
Modernism can often channel heavy minimalism, but here the duo has taken great steps to soften the lines. The addition of a serene reflecting pool sets the calming tone for visitors entering the house.
Photo by Matt McLeod.

In their Esquimalt house, those exterior spaces became the jumping-off point for the home itself. The homeowners were incredibly private people and wanted quiet, reflect­ive moments and meditative spaces to be central to their home. But they’re also a part of a vibrant spiritual community and needed public gathering spaces to be included in the design.

This McLeod Bovell-designed concrete patio includes an infinity pool that seems to be suspended over the neighbourhood. Photo by Martin Tessler.
This McLeod Bovell-designed concrete patio includes an infinity pool that seems to be suspended over the neighbourhood. Photo by Martin Tessler.

The pair used the entrance to the home to provide a solution to that dichotomy. The access road was at the high point of the property, leaving room to build down and to create an internal, quiet courtyard for entering the home. Where other homes in the neighbourhood are mainly geared to capturing the view and directing visitors outward, this home’s great architectural moment is here: steps down from the street, a series of reflecting pools and concrete and wood walkways create a serene, calming moment for visitors prior to entering the home. “It was a solution that just clicked for us,” says Bovell. “There were the pragmatic concerns of building on such a steep site, and in between those pragmatic concerns, you can find these moments for poetic development.”

“In the end, the homeowners’ desires and the condition of the site gave us our answer,” continues McLeod. “And it became the pivotal moment in the house.”

Creating those complete packages is all a part of their storytelling, after all. “It’s a complete environment, and it’s one idea,” notes McLeod. “It allows you to ultimately give the client the very thing you’ve told them you’re going to give them.”

This living room maximizes the killer views of the Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park and downtown. Photo by Martin Tessler.
This living room maximizes the killer views of the Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park and downtown. Photo by Martin Tessler.

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