We asked Michael Leckie, one of the principals of Vancouver-based Campos Leckie Studio, about the importance of discovery in design and the textural differences between projects.
Your website states that your firm is committed to a rigorous process of discovery. How do you explain that to clients?
Process is extremely important in our work. When we meet with clients we do not immediately provide napkin sketches or an indication of what form the work will ultimately take on. Rather, we focus on the formulation of the ‘design problem’ and the conditions that establish the basis for exploration and discovery. These contextual starting points include the site, program, materiality, budget, as well as cultural reference points. This is challenging for some clients, as our culture generally conditions people to expect to see the final product before they commit to something.
Describe the textural differences between your projects in Mexico, and those in the Lower Mainland?
The climate, of course, and especially the light is very different in Mexico than it is in the Pacific Northwest. The projects in each particular region are founded on the same general principles of sustainability in relation to climate, but the materials and envelope considerations are entirely different. We employ passive strategies for heating and cooling in both climates, but this means quite different things here versus there.
In Mexico we typically use very low-tech building techniques and materials – rough structural concrete, concrete block, single glazed windows, stone, steel, cane, and plaster. We are constantly working to blend the living spaces into the landscape as much as possible – creating spaces that are neither entirely interior nor entirely exterior. In Mexico we are focused primarily on technical issues of solar control and ventilation, whereas in Vancouver we are primarily dealing with moisture control and energy efficiency.
In our projects in the Pacific Northwest we employ relatively sophisticated assemblies and building envelope design, focusing as much on the psychological and visual connection to nature as on the opportunities for direct spatial connection. A number of our recent projects in the Lower Mainland have been designed to meet Passive Haus standards for envelope performance and overall energy efficiency.
The construction systems themselves tend to have a direct influence on the formal character of the projects. For example, when working with concrete in Mexico, we tend to focus more on monolithic ideas of massing; while working with timber frames and light wood construction in Vancouver leads to an approach that is conceived more as ‘frames’ and ‘skins‘. Having said that, our work in each region definitely has an influence on our work in the other regions.
Describe what’s special about the following projects:
Zacatitos 02 – This is the most minimal of the four off-grid modernist dwellings in the coastal Sonoran desert. This project was conceived as a series of convertible spaces and exterior courtyards underneath a single large hybrid roof. Multiple solar shading mechanisms were developed based on the traditional local vernacular – vertical slat walls, extended roof cantilevers, and a porous horizontal screen system that incorporates a woven natural cane. These three mechanisms are integrated with strategies of thermal massing and passive ventilation to provide year-round climatic comfort, while balancing the priorities of shelter, day lighting, and views.
Zacatitos 03 – The house occupies a sloped site that is bracketed by the ocean on one side and an extinct volcanic ridge on the other. A series of monolithic panels loosely enclose a series of interior and exterior spaces, providing protection from both the strong sun and tropical storms. The pairs of monoliths are staggered and pulled apart to organize the architectural program, facilitate ventilation, and provide an overall sense of openness. In order to maximize the efficient use of materials and labour, the panel width was derived from the working module of the SIPs panel system (structural insulating panels) that was the selected construction method.
Zacatitos 04 – The design addresses the limitations of working with a modest budget and the challenges of building on a steep rocky site. The strategy was to rethink the needs of the client through the creation of programmatic and functional overlaps. Using the modernist pavilion as a departure point, the private areas are organized to create a porous volume that is raised up off the site to capture wind and provide shelter from the extreme solar loads. Supported lightly on three points, the upper volume provides shade for the public living areas situated on a series of landscape platforms below.
William Street House – This is a renovation to a heritage-listed house, where we consciously introduced modern formal elements to contrast with the Victorian character of the existing dwelling. A porch on the back of the house was removed and the space reconfigured to provide a private exterior space in this dense urban neighbourhood. In addition, the timber-lined box connects the productive garden to the living spaces and acts as an aperture that allows natural daylight light deep into the adjacent living space.
Wallace Street House – Designed to passive house standards with a high performance building envelope, the crystalline volume of the house is carved away at the corners, providing exterior spaces that are a mixture of covered landscape or raised decks and planters. This house is clad in charred cedar, using the Japanese technique of Shou Sugi Ban.