Sunday, November 1, 2009

Echo of a former house

In June 2008, I rode by this house on Echo drive which was undergoing some renovations. It's an unremarkable Victorian red-brick home built in 1924 with a green-shingled roof and third-storey dormer. As always, I took a photo and naively named the file "echo street porch reconstruction.jpg".

When I went by that August and the roof had been removed--along with chunks of brickwork along the front and sides--I realized this was no simple porch replacement. It may even be a demolition, I thought.

In mid-September the wooden framework behind the new front windows was removed. By mid-October, the interior had been gutted and a new structure was well underway. A projection, perhaps an awning, was installed on the top of the building above the door.

The projection grew through the middle of October into something more resembling a box at the third storey.

By mid-November, the box frame was more or less finished, and the walls around the remainder of the house was raised to create what would become a rooftop terrace. One of the utility lines along the side of the house near the front was also removed.

In late November, a temporary railing was installed on top of the box, presumably for the safety of workers. A number of bricks are missing near the former window along the window on this side of the house, exposing the house's wooden frame.

Though it's Winter and snow is on the ground at the end of December, the front of the box is left open. White vapor barrier plastic was installed on the exposed wood parts of the third-storey box. New windows have been installed along the front of the building, as well as on the sides of the opening at the front of the box. From this angle, you can see that the bricks on the front of the house had been painted red, except for the ones behind the former porch.

In January, the Rideau Canal Skateway opened, providing another vantage point to view the construction. Here's a shot from the canal, with a full moon in the background (the same full moon from the third and fourth shots in Rideau Canal: The Limit"). It turns out that there's a squirrel nest in the tree. As for the house, windows have been installed on the front of the third-storey box.

Without its green hat, the house got cold, so it put on a jacket in early February 2009. Actually, this orange tarp is to provide cover as masons to reinstall brick along the front of the house. They had just finished doing the same along the side of the house.

Despite the chills of February, the brickwork on the front of the house was finished in under a month, covering up the scars:

Here's a closer view in April. It's pretty clear which bricks were undisturbed and which had been reinstalled. There's some sort of flat box structure protruding from the side of the house. You can also see the new front door; the steps are temporary.

Here's a view from the other side, which you can still see since the wonderful large tree has not yet brought out its leaves for the season.

Here's the view of the house as you come up Colonel By Drive. I wonder if the NCC can be coaxed to install more trees on that escarpment...

By June, the exterior of the third storey box was complete, though I still expected (hoped) that more work would be done on it. There are also two paint swatches on the face of the house at lower left, which I didn't notice at the time I took the photo. A pair of signs advertise the architects.

Kariouk Architecture, and G.M. French Construction Co. Ltd. (Links at the end of the post).

When I came back in October 2009 to check up on the house, I was rather shocked by the end result: it had been painted black. Having looked at it for so long, I now have difficulty looking at this ultra-modern building without seeing the red-brick house buried underneath. The front lawn was built up to avoid the need for steps to the front door (I guess the design motif is to avoid embellishments like a porch, patio, or balconies)

Here's that great old tree in full foliage.

Can you teach an old house new tricks? According to Kariouk Architecture, you can.

Be sure to check out the photos of the interior of the house on the architects' project page for "Echo House". The ultra-modern exterior looks old hat compared to the inside, which features a giant two-storey open area with modular living/work spaces designed specifically for the residents' needs (be sure to check out the analysis of the dog's living requirements--the architects have a good sense of humour). Come to think of it, the interior's modular design reminds me of the Ottawa Public Library's main branch, which is decidedly unpractical and inaccessible for public use. Maybe it works at a smaller scale.

The architects' website has a few photos of the construction as well, including this shot of the view from the master bedroom, which is at the front of the third-storey cube.

Here's a before-and-after side by side:

Whether this building is a creative adaptive use of an old home, or a black spot on a picturesque drive, is up to the beholder. The interior is certainly cutting-edge, and in terms of size the house overwhelms neither its neighbours, nor its former incarnation.

Not that this is necessarily one, but there is a trend, however, to build big, ugly houses in heritage neighbourhoods. Ironically, these new residents have a great view of the heritage homes surrounding them, but their out-of-place dwellings spoil the view for their neighbours who live in the houses that give the area its cherished heritage character.

- RG>


  1. Wow. This is so interesting. I wish they had left the original red brick which had so much more character than the black and would have fit in a bit more with the neighborhood. At least the owners did keep brick for the exterior rather than installing aluminum like so many other "modern" reno's use. I am not a fan of those boxy overhangs in general. Maybe in 30 years time all the houses around there will be reno'ed to look like this one, but for now I think it stands out too much.

  2. Excellent post, tells an interesting story of a prominently visible renovation. I wouldn't want it myself ... nor for a neighbor I had to look at ... but it is neat in its own way. Definitely not "user friendly". The view from the 3rd floor bedroom explains why they did everything.

  3. It kind of looks like a big square with a slightly smaller square malignant growth.

  4. I love the house... I think it's an interesting blend of the original typical brick home with a modern twist.

    I don't really understand peoples obsesion with keeping neighborhoods exactly the same. The original house wasn't particularly interesting. This one is atleast interesting. Keeping the round window by the door was an interesting move too.

    I also like that they renovated the house rather than knocking it down and hauling it to the dump just to start from scratch.

  5. That is really neat. I saw the construction but not the before picture so I was glad to see your post.

  6. I agree with MG. Diversity is the way to go. I love the renovation! They did an awesome job. Great post!