This is stunning, but should anyone be building homes like this anymore?

True North Elevation
© Alaine Carle Architecte via Dezeen

Mies van der Rohe famously said "less is more"; Morris Lapidus said "Too much is never enough." I don't know which describes this house.

Dezeen shows an absolutely stunning home in Cornwall, Ontario, designed by Alain Carle Architecte of Montreal. It is on a gorgeous site on a point sticking into the St. Lawrence River that was formed when the river was rerouted for the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. The architect notes that "these man-shaped coastlines, levelled by the flooding, consequently induce very strong wind conditions for this unobstructed plane of artificial landscape." I love how he photographed the house in winter, the snow plays off the grey and black of the house.

We don't show monster second homes in the country very often, but this house raises so many issues. It is made of board-poured concrete, a material I love when I see it in a half-century old brutalist building, but has a big carbon footprint. On the other hand, it is cold and windy in winter in Cornwall, and concrete is strong stuff that can resist those winds.

But what really troubles me is the plan of the house. We live in an era where many people are concerned about their carbon footprint and architects try to design buildings that are more energy efficient, even if it is heated by clean power like you get around the dams on the St. Lawrence River.

In an era where we describe houses as "boxy but beautiful," this house has jogs and bumps everywhere. It has a glass enclosed courtyard. It has a surface area that is just huge, all concrete and glass. I cannot begin to think about what it cost to build and what it costs to heat.

A few steps separate the living room from the kitchen and dining area. It has views to the north and west, and is surrounded by a wraparound deck on all sides. "[The house] becomes a device to perceive the landscape rather than a fixed, self-referenced architecture," said Alain Carle Architecte.

The living room has walls of glass pointing right out at the river. No doubt this is all high quality window with triple glazing, but can it be comfortable on a below zero January day? I wonder.

Mrs. Farnsworth hated the glass house Mies Van Der Rohe designed for her; Philip Johnson only used his glass house when the weather was mild and it was habitable. Of course, today we have much better windows technology, and better systems and controls for heating and cooling.

Carle exterior snow© Alain Carle Architecte via Dezeen

This house is extremely beautiful. But had my sustainable design class at Ryerson University not ended last week I would be showing this in the light of all the things I tried to teach them:

  • Minimize jogs, bumps and surface area; make it "boxy but beautiful."
  • Minimize embodied energy and the use of concrete.
  • Frame views with windows like a picture instead of using walls of glass.
  • Plan the bathrooms, kitchen and mechanical rooms to be close together to minimize plumbing and heat loss.
  • Build no more than you need with a tight, efficient plan.

It isn't just about taste and design; I love this architecture, the minimalist look, the ruggedness of board-poured concrete. I just don't think that we should be doing this anymore.

More beautiful photographs on Dezeen.

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