Designing and building a house for your family seems out of imagination. But Shirley Shen did it. As the cofounder of Haeccity Studio Architecture, Shen and her team integrated a classical Chinese residential composition with state-of-the-art construction for her grandparents in Richmond, Canada.
Her grandparents are two Chinese scholars. Having lived in this neighbourhood for nearly fifty years, they desire to seek for a home where they can age in place, as their initial two-story home was falling into disrepair and the stairs proved a challenge at their age. “So (the design) was to reinterpret using their cultural background as the basis, but to do it in a modern way.” Shen said.
What makes this single-family home stands out is its inner philosophy that poetically responds to the cultural intersection of East meeting West. “The strong north-south axis and progression through space along the cardinal line comes from a completely eastern perspective, but the architectural language is of its current time and place.” Shirley explained. She speaks to this theme as an expression of the two Chinese scholars’ personal story.
Upon arriving, you will be instantly amazed by its layout, which integrates principles from Fengshui, a set of 2000-year-old spatial laws meant to direct energy; and Siheyuan, a Chinese historical courtyard house. Essentially a covered courtyard surrounded by buildings on four sides, the building borrows from this traditional hierarchy in the layering of spaces; a guest is received at the south end where the foyer is separated from the living space, and invited northwards should they share enough intimacy. Further north constitutes private space reserved for the head of the household.
“Because the clients have a large extended family and regularly receive visitors, we wanted to think of it more as a village than a house. It’s a collection of private pods that plug into the large central shared space,” elaborates principal Travis Hanks.
The architects sought to connect the central space with the outdoors, by opting for double height NLT (nail-laminated-timber) ceilings, automated clerestory windows, and French doors looking out to the garden at the back. The rock garden and cedar wood cladding that greets one at the entry flows from outside to inside.
The single-story, zero-barrier layout makes the home wheelchair accessible, and Shen added other features, such as a height-adjustable kitchen island and zero-threshold shower, to make sure the home continues to be comfortable and convenient for her grandparents.