Urban Classics

November 30, 2019

Will Ottawa’s modern infill homes stand the test of time?

Is it possible that 50-100 years from now, people will covet the “classic” modern infill homes that are being built across Ottawa today? Will they be held in high regard the same way a Glebe Tudor or Westboro Craftsman are? We’re inclined to say yes. A modern infill home that is designed thoughtfully with quality materials can be a very desirable and liveable dwelling that will “age gracefully” over time.

It is not uncommon for people to assume a modern dwelling has no place in a historical, established neighbourhood alongside homes that were built upwards of 100+ years earlier. Some view them as visually jarring, uncomplimentary or simply unattractive. And while beauty is subjective, we at Hobin Architecture firmly believe that infill done well can successfully counter this opposition – and that societal expectations for urban living are steadily evolving.

Left: 89 Third Ave. (2006), Right: 910 Colonel By Dr. (2005)

We take modern infill seriously

As a design-oriented architectural practice, we apply rigour and nuance to our work. When we take on a new infill project, we want to make efficient and optimal use of the site while remaining sensitive to context. We apply detailed thought to appropriate scale, materiality, design configuration and engagement with the street.

It’s the attention we give to the spaces in between and surrounding the building that sets Hobin Architecture apart. We closely examine how they relate to the context as a whole. The alternative to this approach is creatively limiting (you’re essentially designing a home in a silo) and disregards the impact the design of the home will have on the neighbouring buildings and public space around it.

Here are three recent examples of modern infill that we’ve had the pleasure of designing – all of which we like to believe are urban classics in their own right.

353 Winston Ave (2018)

353 Winston Ave.

Located on a very narrow lot, this home is simple in its composition and puts an emphasis on experience over style. This meant focusing on efficient functioning of space in its design, both inside and out, as well as maximizing light and views. The small front yard features an urban garden and here, the traditional front porch is re-imagined as a generously-sized terrace.

Landscape walls of limestone and corten delineate private space without obstructing connection to the street or appearing fortress-like. Additional outdoor living space is provided by a rear terrace as well as a rooftop patio with picturesque views of the Gatineau Hills.

The strong connection between home and yard combined with bold materials and a social nod to the past with a welcoming front porch are what make 353 Winston a home that is sure to do more than just hold up over time – its design and functionality will endure.

534 and 536 Cole Ave (2018)

534 & 536 Cole Ave.

These two custom detached homes share similar interior layout and design, but it is their exterior aesthetics that is especially compelling. With 536 being a whimsical take on a traditional 1.5 storey arts and crafts home, and 534 being more representative of traditional infill, the pair provide inspired, complementary diversity side-by-side. And in the interest of providing more front yard space that is unencumbered by cars, designer Todd Duckworth developed innovative garages for each home situated at the rear and tucked away beneath a large patio deck.

Innovative car parking at 534 and 536 Cole Ave.

Taken as a whole, these two new builds look like they were meant to be together, while also managing to flatter their longstanding neighbours. You might even say it feels like they’ve always been there.

70 Craig Street (2014)

70 Craig St.

Intentionally designed to maximize views of Brown’s Inlet Park, 70 Craig Street has a presence that is paradoxically diminutive yet commanding with its oversized windows and formidable exterior design. With parking incorporated into the rear of the home, this modern bungalow features an expansive front lawn that mirrors the verdant park across the street. A morning cup of coffee can be enjoyed on the front porch while an evening with wine and friends can be spent on a generous rear terrace.

This is a bungalow with staying power.

Urban living expectations are changing

As with 353 Winston Ave, many of today’s custom home clients are placing equal or greater emphasis on the living experience over the aesthetic qualities of their homes – focusing on smart use of light and space instead of the outward appearance of their homes.

As well, location, amenities and walkability are all factors that have become increasingly more important – which is one explanation for why established neighbourhoods are prime property for building infill – character, charm, history and convenience are all there.

Having a large yard is not as important a factor as it once was and sacrificing this space in the name of optimal interior living space is something that today’s families are more than willing to do. However, not at the expense of attractive landscaping, welcoming entrances and clever, unobtrusive parking solutions, which remain quite important.

Rockcliffe Custom Home (2018)

Urban infill is here to stay

Modern infill homes are definitely making their mark in Ottawa. From a sustainability perspective they make sense by virtue of the fact that they are built in neighbourhoods that require little in the way of new infrastructure and encourage a less car-dependent lifestyle.

But they are also here to stay because people’s expectations of what homes should be are shifting. And designers of well-conceived urban infill are responding to those expectations with homes that are eminently livable for decades to come.

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