MONTREAL – Jennifer Thorogood of Montreal-based Thomas Balaban Architecte admits often forgetting to mention that the firm's latest completed project was prefabricated. Once having encountered the detached home’s singular exterior cladding of standing-seam aluminium, the visitor might easily forget the prefab factor as well, exploring the radical configuration within. Most oddly, a slice along the structure’s north-south axis funnels into a void that staggers down all three levels. Christened after its street in the Southwest borough of Montreal, Holy Cross House craftily but reverently subverts the doctrines that define its surrounding residences. Thorogood discusses the conception of this home further.
How has this area of Montreal developed recently, and has its development affected your project?
The borough is comprised of several neighbourhoods, many of which are being gentrified. However, many working class areas still remain, and the borough has managed to control development and maintain a nice demographic and cultural balance. The neighbourhood also rests along the Lachine Canal, which has some of the best examples of Montreal’s industrial heritage. The fact that we were hired to design a new home in the neighbourhood obviously speaks to the Southwest’s gentrification, and we took that into consideration. We tried not to make the house too precious, using materials that kept within the DNA of the area.
What features distinguish the ‘post-war home’ template in southwest Montreal from which you have specified drawing certain elements of the structure?
The post-war homes in the Southwest borough tend to be detached with a pitched roof, each following a similar placement pattern. They are constructed from inexpensive materials and are formally uncomplicated. What really appealed to us was the simplistic, repetitive shape we saw when walking along the streets. It read like an array of Monopoly houses. We wanted the house to reflect this aspect by treating it as an object comprised of a single material rather than expressing stacked spaces with a patchwork of finishes. To this end, we carved out the volume to bring in light as opposed to popping out to grab it. We set out to integrate it into the neighbourhood through form, placement and the use of an inexpensive cladding rather than by mimicking details and matching façades. It is clearly not a post-war home, so it’s important that the house looks of its time.
Were there any other influences for the house besides local, residential norms?
When considering the layout of the house, we turned to the courtyard home for inspiration. The front of the narrow lot faces directly south, leaving the edges of the property in constant shade. Since the centre region was the sunniest, we decided to bring the outdoor spaces into the heart of the house instead of surrounding it. We flipped the traditional house hierarchy and put the private spaces on the lowest levels – clustered around a central courtyard – while the social areas are elevated to take advantage of direct sunlight where it is needed the most.