Western Living Magazine
The Home Tour: A 1,400-Square-Foot Townhouse With Scandi-Cool Style
Home Tour: Inside This Mountain-Modern Home
A Seven-Bedroom Pied-a-Terre Designed to Bring Family Together
Recipe: Green Papaya Salad from Chef Angus An
Recipe: Scallop Ceviche from Maenam’s Chef Angus An
3 Classy Australian White Wines to Toast Olivia Newton-John With
The Best Beginner Hikes In and Around Whistler
Getaway Guide: How to Spend One Perfect Day on Galiano Island
Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Canmore
‘West Coast North’ is a Love Letter to Western Canadian Architecture and Interiors
Design Obsession: This Roll-Up Drying Rack Is Maybe My Favourite Thing in the Kitchen
10 of the Hottest Homewares for Summer 2022
Announcing the 2022 Designers of the Year Finalists
You’re Invited to the Design Party of the Year!
DotY 2022: Our Judges for the Maker Category Can’t Wait to See What You’ve Got
Impossible sites, soaring cliffs: repeat winners Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell of McLeod Bovell Modern Houses have proved again that they cant (or wont) be stumped.
They may have won our Architectural Designers of the Year award back in 2018, but this second win doesn't feel like a repeat for McLeod Bovell. In three years, theyve changed, evolved, adapted, grown: to win for the work theyve produced as McLeod Bovell 2.0 is a victory as sweet as the first.
Of course, as the projects have become more ambitious, as the team has expanded (currently to a crew of 10), as the budgets and scope and ambition have grown, the heart of the Vancouver-based residential design firm has stayed the same: principals Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell are still creating dreamy, modernist visions out of concrete, glass and sheer audacity. And theyre still finishing each other's sentences, as theyve been doing since they first became friends and collaborators at UBC.
Situated on a granite rock 40 metres above the shoreline, the Black Cliff House takes cues from the site's distinct topographical features and extreme contours.
Though they certainly didnt set out to do this when they first founded their firm in 2008, their specialty has somehow become tailoring sleek residential forms quite comfortably onto irregularly shaped lots and death-defyingly steep land masses.
The first two houses they worked on just happened to be on challenging lots, so McLeod and Bovell learned as they went. We got educated… says McLeod, as Bovell jumps in: …really fast. One West Vancouver site was so steep, portions of it werent even walkable. But the landscape set the tone for the designers to find a careful solution to every siting consideration, every decision, and to become unphased by even the steepest, rockiest of topographical challenges.
Black Cliff House
And so, over the past several years, the daring designs have kept on coming. For instance: situated on a granite rock 40 metres above the shore, the Black Cliff House acts as a gathering spot for a family scattered across the globe. Two wings are separated by a shared outdoor terrace; a shifting spatial geometry at the intersection of the main and upper floors creates a compelling visual void. (It feels a little bit unexpected, says McLeod.) Views and light stream in from the southwest, while a reflecting pond at the entrance foyer and a bamboo courtyard bring a hit of nature.
The Container House is similarly precariously perched, though the floor plan is more modest than Black Cliff: a two-storey split level for a nearly retired couple. Bright, open and airy, the layout connects spaces horizontally and vertically. Elsewhere in West Vancouver, the recently completed waterfront Four and Four House (located, yes, on a steep lot) references a regional tradition of post-and-beam construction. The upper level (home to the bedrooms) covers the outdoor living room like a bridge. The site's generous width allows for four distinct courtyards; inside, a fully glazed gallery is the intersection between the living spaces and the outdoors.
Views and light pour in to the Black Cliff House from every angle, thanks to a clever spatial design that puts a void at the centre of the building.
Obviously, McLeod and Bovell cant be credited with the landscape or the views that are the signature of each of their recent projectsMother Nature takes the W on that onebut their gift for framing said views, for putting million-dollar vistas on display with a disappearing wall here and a gliding floor-to-ceiling window there, is unparalleled. A McLeod Bovell home is connected to its surroundings at every turn: with the wall-to-wall windows, of course, but also with volumes that intersect and cascade in playful, thoughtful ways along the landscape.
Their masterful approach to siting and structure has earned them plenty of accoladesand has impressed our architecture judges, too. Judge and architect Omar Gandhi called their execution absolutely brilliant, praising both the scale of the site and the scale of the detail. Fellow judge and architect Anne-Marie Armstrong, meanwhile, praised their holistic approach: there'sso much coherent expression from outside to inside.
The Container House was commissioned for a couple near retirement: they asked McLeod Bovell for spaces that offered the ease of an apartment with the flexibility of a large, inviting outdoor area.
Their reputation, in many cases, encourages their clients to push the duo to the limits; their structural engineering partners, too, bring a level of ambition (see: cliff houses) that also eggs them on. You can either fight or give in to that quirk, says Bovell. You can acknowledge that this is what youve got and use it as an opportunity to be more ambitious.
At this point, that's the way they like it. Even for homes that are on a more traditional urban lotread: flattheir team takes the same principles, sensibility and skill set and puts them to work. There may not be the slopes or views to play with, but whimsy becomes a driver, even when we don't have to, says McLeod. Does it have to sit flat, or can it hover? Can a corner lift up? They cant help themselves. Maybe It's just us now. Maybe we've just changed, says Bovell.
The Container House
And at this new stage of their career, theyve got the chance to focus in a whole new way. we're in a phase where we have an opportunity to be more reflective, says McLeod. We've got a different way of completing the projects, not just in how they happen, but how we work.
The 2021 McLeod Bovell goes through more cycles of iteration than the 2018 edition. Like for a skilled surgeon or elite athlete, time stretches out in a new way for the pair. They stop, they shift, they anticipate the consequences faster, and the results are all the more special for it. That's not to say the art of it all has been abandoned: the mystery of architecture is still alive and well at their studio.
You do stumble through a miasma when youre designing, says McLeod. Youre going on your brain and your intuition, but there'sa fog. Certain bits start lifting and clarifying, and then: it appears. And, with each project, the fog rolls in again.
To paraphrase Eduardo Souto de Moura: Design is like an emergency. You show up on the scene. You triage. You figure out what to do. And Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell have provenonce againthat theyre the ones you want on the front lines.
Because, after another three years of blood, sweat, tears and architecture, tackling impossible site after impossible site, they know there'salways a solutionno matter how thick the fog feels in the moment. there'san innate optimism to this approach… or, from another angle, a stubbornness. I had a professor describe my architecture as willful and obstinate, laughs Bovell.
I don't think youd look at either of us and think, oh, there'sa couple of optimists. But we are optimists, says McLeod. Even in moments of design turmoil.
Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell of McLeod Bovell Modern Houses, photographed at one of their West Vancouver projects.