Archive for April, 2010

Rod Palm’s ship house on Strawberry Isle in Tofino, BC

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Rod Palm's house by Orcawizard

Views of Rod’s famous ship house just off Tofino on the West Coat of Vancouver Island. Below, from here. And on Rod Palm and the Strawberry Isle Research Society here.

House Boat Toffino. jpg

StrawberryIsle - Rod Palm

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

From "1601 Decorating Ideas for Modern Living," 1973

Kama-Asa Shop, Asakusa, Tokyo

Window display, Matsumoto City

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

True or false? These are the opening lines of Zora Neale Thurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Photos below from here. Last photo is from inside.

House by Jonathan Adler


model ship, via inside on tumblr

Door canopy by architect Robert Kleyn

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Canopy by Robert Kleyn at Catriona Jeffries

Beautiful canopy by Robert Kleyn for Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. The design of this canopy is clever not just because it’s a visually interesting addition to an otherwise aggressively plain warehouse, but also because it effectively deflects wind in what is an exposed windy laneway. And it has worn very well – it’s been up there for a while now. Kleyn, who converted this warehouse building to a gallery for Jeffries, has also recently designed a studio building for artist Stan Douglas in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Klein is also an artist and designer among many other things – see this Fillip magazine article, or read more about his work here.

PS On the roofline of the building, you can see the text artwork “Stay Away From Lonely Places” by Ron Terada.

Canopy by Robert Kleyn at Catriona Jeffries

Canopy by Robert Kleyn at Catriona Jeffries

Vancouver architecture critic Trevor Boddy’s article on the studio building Kleyn designed for Stan Douglas is reprinted below.


“I’m afraid your novel is unsuitable for us at the present time.”

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

From Black Books, Irish comedian Dylan Moran’s British TV series. Moran played Bernard Black, misanthropic second-hand bookshop owner. See also another episode in which Bernard, unable to figure out his tax forms, learns that he will receive an extension for filing his return only in the event of injury, so seeks injury by provoking skinheads. Also see his standup routines – eg. on the French, on accents, and on stereotyping of the Irish.

Rain chains or kusari doi

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

2009 Takayama

Kusari doi – the Japanese characters are 鎖樋 which translates literally as “chain gutters” – are known in English as rain chains. They are used in Japan as downspouts to direct rain from a gutter to the ground, where it either flows into a gravel or pebble bed or into some sort of catchment. Rain chains are traditional on Japanese houses and temples, but they’re also sometimes seen on midcentury modern houses, not surprising considering the influence of Japanese house design on modernist architecture. And because of their ecological value – they direct water back onto the property, instead of into storm drains – they are becoming more popular on all types of houses. It’s said that their purpose was traditionally largely decorative, but that’s not entirely true, contrary to what many house inspectors think. Chains actually do function perfectly well as downspouts. In my experience in BC, rain chains have usually just been made from simple heavy chain (see my video in the previous post) but they are also sometimes made from a series of metal cups strung at intervals on a chain. (See example in copper, above – note that for some reason this one is missing its catchment.) With the latter type, water overflows each cup and falls to the next, producing the sound of a fountain or brook. In Japanese gardens greater attention is paid to sound, and rain chains are part of that sensitivity. They do make a beautiful sound. I for one really dislike the clumsy ticking of water in metal downspouts.

Below is a rain chain at an Eichler house in California. Here the water runs into a traditional Japanese pebble pit.

More information here, and see also here and here. And update: see Anna’s rain chain on a traditional heritage NY State house here. You don’t have to have a Japanese or midcentury modern house to have a rain chain.

“If I Had a Hammer? What Do You Mean If?”

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Downstairs seating platform

Shelves in house on Vancouver Island

Before I start, I’m asking on behalf of the owners of this house that nobody reposts or reproduces any of these images anywhere without my permission. Like a lot of people who have built their own houses in the woods, the owners, who are relatives of mine, appreciate their privacy and feel a bit negative about seeing their house all over the internet. Despite misgivings, they did say yes to a few photos of corners of their house. I wouldn’t have published these at all, except that when I set out to write about vernacular architecture I couldn’t find photos of another house that I liked as much as this one. That’s probably just because I’ve grown up around this house. You can see a few more photos of this house and environs here and here. Of course there are many other beautiful handbuilt houses in existence, and if you want to see more photos, see the section on handmade houses listed below (and see the comments). But the very first book on handbuilt houses I ever saw is Handmade Houses by Barry Shapiro. It is now out of print but you can find a second-hand copy on abebooks.

In the US these houses are sometimes referred to as “Big Sur vernacular,” but usually here on the west coast of Canada we just call them handmade or handbuilt houses, vernacular architecture, or hippie houses. They’re pretty common in British Columbia, most famously on the Gulf Islands between mainland Vancouver and Vancouver Island, but they exist everywhere. This particular house was built by hand in sections beginning in the late 60s, on a dry granite hill just above a lake. The piece of land was cheap at the time, and the house was built for almost nothing. The ownersai were artists at the time and had virtually no budget, so most of the materials were salvaged or bartered, and since the place was built with the help of friends there were almost no labour costs. The main section of house (in the photo directly below) was the first to be built. Then a side room was added on. After that, an adjacent studio building was built, and beyond that a round music studio with a roof made from an old conical shipwright’s form. All of these are connected by a continuous cedar deck. Later a bedroom was built to span over the gap between the house and studio, conjoining the two buildings in the process. There’s a woodshed in the complex too (the building with the large cog on the side) as well as a woodworking shop building that you can see in the video. The house as a whole actually makes visual sense, despite its many angles and eras, thanks to the owners’ design skills, the fact that all of the buildings are clad in cedar, and the way everything wraps around the natural contours of the hill.

One of the best things about the house is its smell. The milled cedar boards that clad almost all of the walls give off a kind of perfume. I’ve never been in a city house that smells that way, though I guess it’s possible.


The most beautiful door I've ever seen

Upstairs shelf

studio ceiling

If you’re interested in seeing more handbuilt houses, writer Lloyd Kahn is more or less the expert on this topic. Like the builder-owners of this house, Kahn understands that your relationship to your shelter is different when you’ve built it yourself. “The process makes you different,” Mr. Kahn said of building one’s own house, which he has done four times.” If you’re interested, see Kahn’s books Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter and Builders of the Pacific Coast. Or you can buy books straight from Lloyd on his site here, where there’s also an entertaining NYT article on Kahn, “If I Had a Hammer? What Do You Mean If?” It’s worth reading just for the short biography of Kahn, who’s interesting for his ability to change his mind. He got involved with the utopian geodesic dome thing in the 60s but eventually recanted.

“In a sense, Mr. Kahn and his wife, Lesley Creed, a gifted gardener and quilter, have stepped out of the pages of his own book. Their woodsy compound, where bantam chickens roam, is presided over by a 30-foot-tall hexagonal tower, its windows plucked from chicken coops. It is the lone remnant of a geodesic dome – “the most beautiful dome ever built,” as Mr. Kahn put it, which he constructed in 1971, heady with the ideas of the visionary builder R. Buckminster Fuller. He dismantled the dome four years later in disenchantment and eventually renounced domes altogether in a diatribe titled “Refried Domes,” self-published on newsprint and distributed throughout the dome underground.

Life magazine had featured the dome in a 1972 article titled “Room Galore but Hard to Subdivide.” Mr. Kahn told the magazine, “In an ordinary square house, vitality sits down and dies in corners.”

“I was young and foolish,” he now says, citing the leaks that the domes were prone to, and their impractical shape. “You shouldn’t make building a house a trip.” “

Studio bed


Door, rope handle

Window frame

Woodshed with old shipwright's form

Platform for plant pot to prevent rot

deck and studio


Lastly, we have been having increasingly extreme weather on the west coast. I was at the house during late March’s torrential winds and rains, and the Japanese-style chain downpipes or “rain chains” worked very well, despite a little splash from the sheer volume of rainwater. Building inspectors like to say these don’t work. Not true.  (In the background of the video you can also see the woodworking shop.)