Friday, October 5, 2012

Baldwin House - Erickson's 1963 Modern Home

Baldwin House nestled in forest on the south shore of Deer Lake.
We are spending Thanksgiving week at Baldwin House, an early Arthur Erickson design epitomizing his development of the West Coast style. Combining Scandanavian and Japanese features in a rain forest environment, the house has been an interesting dwelling place.

Burnaby, British Columbia, can be proud of their greenspaces. A part of the lower mainland of the Fraser River valley, the city has some old parks, but it has also reclaimed property from earlier industrial and institutional uses. The western shores of Deer Lake were, from 1912 to 1991, the site of the Oakalla maximum security prison farm. Only traces of the prison remain in the park, most buried beneath a large condominium development on the remainder of the site.

Built into the steep lake slope, Baldwin House is experienced as a series of cascades.
Across Deer Lake there was already a suburban development of small holdings that has more recently transformed into a densely packed urbanscape of single family houses. Eagles Estate, a lovely English style bungalow set in a large garden built in 1930, is a remnant of the older community. Built for Blyth and Violet Eagles, the house was sold onto the City of Burnaby in 1993 when Violet passed away. The building and its maintained gardens are now the regional offices of The Land Conservancy of BC. The TLC is also the manager of Baldwin House.

The Living Room with its original furnishings and finishes.
The Baldwins, friends of Arthur Erickson, commissioned the house in 1963, the same year the Erickson/Massey firm was surprised to win the contract for the design of Simon Fraser University campus. The house has a stepped concrete foundation, the rough faces generally covered with cedar panelling or stone tiles but two lower slabs still show the rough plank formwork. Rising from the foundation almost like a mist are vertical glass plates and horizontal cedar beams. Looking out from the house offers beautifully framed views of the lake and the changing sky.

Evening, a dramatic sky and views of Grouse Mountain.
Early morning, an aura of calm and peace. Nice to have a canoe.
Artful views are offered from every room.
The range of materials, textures and colours offer an interesting contrast with the natural setting of the house.
Living in a fish bowl.
The City of Burnbaby runs an active recreational education program at Deer Lake. Every weekday large numbers of middle school students launch canoes and head out on a voyage. We were surprised to find that the first stop was always the little cove of Baldwin House. With some 80 young eyes all staring through the transparent walls of the house we were glad that we'd already dressed.

A week in Baldwin house allowed us to appreciate the skill and thought that went into the design and orientation of this dwelling. It is not a house offering comfort and security - definitely not in the pioneer tradition of refuge. Rather the structure engages it's occupants with the forest, water and life about it.

Standing by the edge of the floor - the glass offering no sense of wall - you are not watching nature, you are a part of it. The house was at its best in early dawn, watching lake mist rise and obscuring shore, tree and mountain, offering a blank slate and then the sun tints the opposite shore, the mist evaporates to reveal the new day. And in the evening with the red sky reflected in the water and calling for thoughts on the acts and passions of the day just passed.

Perhaps a week of clear skies and bright sunshine was an unusual event in Burnaby but we will have to return to see and experience Erickson's invisible house in the rain.

The house appears to float in its watery setting. Erickson claimed Dal Lake in Kashmir as an inspiration for Baldwin House.

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