Homes & Design Photo Credit: Robert Lemermeyer

Eco-Friendly Penthouse

A mechanical room atop a skyscraper in Edmonton’s downtown core is transformed into a penthouse with a view to a thrill.

Architect Vivian Manasc (Western Living Designer of the Year for her eco-minded portfolio) lives the way she works: by day she helps companies upgrade older buildings with sustainability in mind, much as she has done for her own home in downtown Edmonton.

In the lexicon of dwellings there are few words more evocative than “penthouse,” with its connotations of luxury, sophistication and expressive individualism. None of those are controverted in the example seen here. But also coming into play are some less-expected descriptors, including sustainable, target-setting and good old-fashioned DIY.

Also uncharacteristically, this penthouse is located in downtown Edmonton—and it wasn’t even integrated into a purpose-built condo building. Rather, it sits foursquare atop a 1960s-issue office building. True, more than a decade ago the 18-storey tower was converted into the Cambridge Lofts, but most of those units are fairly humble, and a planned penthouse was never built. Instead, its recent completion can be chalked up to a series of events that include a fire, an energy review and, not least, the existence of a person with an appetite for something very different and the ability to make it happen.

eco-friendly penthouse Western Living

This space is totally transparent, so the jewel tones used for the windows are carried inside as well: in vintage pendant lights, the recovered leather seats of Danish mid-century modern teak chairs, and even the multi-coloured faces of storage compartments.

That person is Vivian Manasc, a partner in the architectural firm Manasc Isaac, as well as in its company Reimagine, which helps upgrade older buildings with a view toward sustainability and efficient energy use. While investigating Cambridge Lofts on behalf of Reimagine, Manasc noticed the vestigial mechanical room atop the tower, and further learned that title for it had been issued and sold, even though little attempt was made to convert it to living quarters. Meanwhile, she and her husband had just been forced to vacate their own condo due to a fire. Just a few months later it was theirs, and less than a year after that, it was home.

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Taking the better part of a year to design and build a residence might not sound extraordinarily quick, but given all of those former functions, the complications were many. On the bright side, enough waste heat was captured from nearby elevator equipment that the home did not need to be hooked up to the building’s heat source. Less brightly, the roof that the home sits upon—like a house on its yard—was dotted with unsightly and smelly exhaust outlets, which had to be channelled together and rerouted up and above the home using four chimney-like stacks.

This space is totally transparent, so the jewel tones used for the windows are carried inside as well: in vintage pendant lights, the recovered leather seats of Danish mid-century modern teak chairs, and even the multi-coloured faces of storage compartments.

eco-friendly penthouse Western Living

In typical penthouse fashion, much of the design revolved around capturing views. The building sits close to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, and there’s a rapidly evolving cityscape in all directions. The various outlooks were edited, using glazing or opaque panels, as warranted. But this home was also meant to be seen. The vividly coloured opaque panels that alternate with clear and tinted window panes are in keeping with modernist ideals and current trends, but they also have another function, says Manasc—to playfully announce the home’s presence, and to hint to Edmontonians about some of the wonderful things that are possible, architecturally speaking.

eco-friendly penthouse Western Living

Greys and whites predominate, but hits of colour on a kitchen backsplash ping off tinted windowpanes. Also, the open spaces are perfect for showcasing the modern furniture that Manasc has collected for more than two decades. Vintage pendant lights over the table offer playful contrast to the understated white droplights over the island.

Inside, the intent was also straightforward: Manasc has been collecting modern furniture for more than two decades, and needed open spaces to put it in. Greys and whites predominate, but hits of colour on a kitchen backsplash ping off tinted windowpanes. Pendants purchased from an old convent look as if they were purpose-designed. There’s not a whiff of set dec, which is why the place is reminiscent of Manhattan rather than Mad Men.

eco-friendly penthouse Western Living

Still to be finished are the outdoor spaces that will complete the transformation of ugly mechanical room into penthouse beautiful. In the meantime, though—and especially during the past cruel winter—Manasc finds herself revelling in the location. The exercise room with a view. The LRT station just down the elevator. “It’s like living on a cruise ship,” she says. And so it is. You can tell from the stacks. wl

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