Landscape in a Box
Perched on a wooded hillside overlooking Lake Jasper just outside rural Chertsey, in central Québec, a new cottage/studio designed by Montréal-based Architecturama initially exhibits a decidedly classical persona for a house in such a rugged romantic landscape. A simple three-storey cube clad in unstained eastern cedar, it is fronted by a full-height portico whose five unadorned columns suggest the rational classicism of the late Italian architect Aldo Rossi. But this rigid balance is almost immediately undone by three broad turquoise-painted bands that slash diagonally up and across behind the columns before angling back down through the open porch and entering the house itself. This colourful, three-dimensional chevron is the first hint of an interior architectural landscape as rugged and as romantic as its exterior environment.
Inside, functions are compartmentalized into two very different spaces. A series of “minimalist”compartments are stacked over five irregular levels along the north wall and read more as galley, berths and heads than kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms. The much larger or “maximal” space faces south, exposing the lake through a full wall of glass made possible by commercial framing stabilized by a 32 inch wide glulam beam across the top. This gloriously expansive interior void is sliced by two inclined bleacher-like planes reflecting the sloping site, each with a common starting point at the southwest corner of the concrete ground floor. These step up to just above the kitchen floor on the top level and meet at 90 degrees to one another.
Where the top platform on the south-facing bleacher fronts the galley kitchen, it doubles as a food preparation surface and a dining table with stools on the inside and a bleacher bench on the great room side. The west-facing bleacher slips out through the glazing and stretches across the open portico. Thus, those lively turquoise bands serve as balustrades for a stepped exterior terrace. Its benches are stained translucent blue with spacers between the 2×3 planks to allow light to filter through creating ever changing patterns below. Conversely, the planks of the south-facing terraces are stained green and packed tightly like mill flooring. Comprised of standardized panels, each section can be individually adjusted to modulate the landscape of each terrace.
The structure of the larger, interior free space accommodates above and below the bleachers a working studio, changeable interactive platforms to entertain friends and family and, not incidentally, an appropriate stage on which to confront a romantic environment without hostility, to paraphrase the great Norwegian architect and theorist Christian Norberg-Schutz. In architect Sylvain Bilodeau’s own words, the house and its terraced platforms facilitate both protection from and projection into nature.
Underneath, the bleachers are supported by a relatively dense, 44-inch grid of double 2×4 columns intended to suggest the site’s deciduous forest. The columns, stained black and wired with exposed black cable to increase lighting flexibility, allow horizontal plywood planes to be attached (and adjusted) to create working desks on the bottom level or intertwined levels higher up under the benches. “Children love the cottage the most, as they can roam, crawl and filter around and through the many in-between spaces,” says Bilodeau. “The bleachers are simultaneously oversized furniture, an agora, a circulation area, filters, dividers, bookshelves, structural elements, and so on.”
While two circulation staircases are tucked into the underbelly of the bleachers, there are also movable blocks that serve as steps up the terraces but can also be used as sitting and lounging supports or as side tables. A fireplace hung on the wall, a movie projector and feather cushions (the last being one of the few furniture pieces added to this architectural landscape) turns the agora space into an arena for entertainment, reading or just relaxing with a spectacular panoramic view.
Returning to the opening observation about the severe rationalism of the cottage’s form, Bilodeau notes “at first glance, the difference between natural and built form is highlighted [but] the close links uniting the architecture with nature emerge through ambiances, relationships, mimetic qualities, materials and light.”Not incidentally, the deep portico decreases interior heat gain in summer but allows passive solar in the winter. Ground level south-facing windows combine with high north-side windows to create a heat chimney furthering the cottage’s green credentials.
At many levels, both as a professional design studio and a friendly, even beguiling space to entertain, the Jasper Lake cottage works, in a word, naturally.