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The West Coast Modern House: Vancouver Residential Architecture

By Greg Bellerby

Finding a Good Fit: The Life & work of Architect Rand Iredale

By Kathryn Iredale and Sheila Martineau

Review By Harold Kalman

October 21, 2015

BC Studies no. 190 Summer 2016  | p. 167-168

West Coast Modernism describes a particular brand of mid-twentieth-century architecture that developed in the Vancouver region, a style much talked about but not widely published. The firms most closely associated with the manner include Thompson, Berwick, and Pratt; Hollingsworth and Downs; and Erickson Massey. This mid-century style developed in parallel with International Style Modernism, which prevailed in Central Canada, led by Toronto’s John B. Parkin Associates. The two variants of modernism shared many features. Both abandoned historicism, featured vertical posts and horizontal beams with flat roofs, used large expanses of glass, and adopted open planning. The West Coast version distinguished itself by exploiting wood as the main structural and cladding material, developing a particularly close relationship between building and landscape, and exploiting post-and-beam construction aesthetically as well as structurally.

Gallery director and curator Greg Bellerby focuses on the style’s residential buildings in The West Coast Modern House. He reprints a landmark article of 1947 on the emerging style by architect-protagonist C.E. (Ned) Pratt, and follows with short essays on “Landscape and the West Coast Modern House” by architectural historian Jana Tyler and “The Next Modern House” by architectural educator Chris Macdonald. The principal section is a collection of 53 houses built between 1940 and 1966. Each features a short description and superb black-and-white photographs, mostly from Western Homes and Living. The monthly magazine, launched in 1950, documented new residential architecture and commissioned talented architectural photographers, principally Selwyn Pullan (subject of a recent monograph), John Fulker, and Graham Warrington. The final section offers colour photos of selected “contemporary” (1990-2014) houses.

The book is a pleasure to thumb through but thin on critical analysis. The houses have been thoughtfully selected to represent what are arguably the finest domestic buildings by both familiar and forgotten architects. In contrast to Macdonald’s and Tyner’s general insights, however, Bellerby’s introductory essay and the descriptions of the houses provide no new observations.

One architect omitted from Bellerby’s book is W. Randle (Rand) Iredale (1929-2000). He opened his practice in 1957 and soon joined in partnership with William Rhone. Rhone and Iredale Architects (1960-80), along with Thompson, Berwick and Pratt, was one of two incubator offices that immersed a generation of Vancouver architects and planners in West Coast Modernism.

In Finding a Good Fit, Iredale’s widow, Kathryn Iredale, perpetuates her husband’s memory and presents his work as a designer and educator. The book takes the reader on a quirky but delightful journey, combining the personal memories of Kathryn and their children with a biographical narrative and descriptions of about 40 projects in architecture and planning, ranging in scale from the powerhouse and associated buildings built for the W.A.C. Bennett Dam to modest residences. Iredale’s UBC student seminars in Venice and at the family’s Mayne Island retreat rounded out his professional work. Kathryn Iredale’s text is supplemented with excerpts from Rand’s writings (principally his Project Manager’s Manual, 1997), the architectural press, professional reports, and comments by colleagues. The book offers a wealth of insights, if relatively little new analysis, although it would have benefitted from a firmer structure and tighter editing.

The West Coast Modern House: Vancouver Residential Architecture
Greg Bellerby
Vancouver: Figure 1 Publishing and the Charles H. Scott Gallery, 2014. 175 pp., $45 paper

Finding a Good Fit: The Life & Work of Architect Rand Iredale
Kathryn Iredale with Sheila Martineau
Vancouver: Blueimprint and Kathryn Iredale, 2008. 375 pp., $49.95 paper