The lowly carport is a poor cousin to the deluxe and much more practical garage. They're how home builders keep costs down, right? And they're certainly not something that serious architects spend much time thinking about.
Or are they?
While cost-cutting may have been one factor in the carport's birth some time during the early years of the 20th century - the first is often credited to ex-Frank Lloyd Wright employee and architect Walter Burley Griffin in 1909 - by the 1930s, the "father" of the California ranch-style home, Cliff May, was using them to great effect, and so, too, was Mr. Wright on his smaller-scale Usonian homes.
Architect David Fujiwara was no doubt thinking of these things when he got a call from homeowner Hugh Dillon, one of the stars of the hit CTV series Flashpoint . He and his wife, Midori, had just pulled down a two-car garage at the rear of their Danforth Village home that was threatening to become "a raccoon home" and were thinking of replacing it with a carport.
"It left them with no yard," remembers the architect of the dilapidated structure. "They were happy with their little house but there was no opportunity to come outside and enjoy a little bit of greenery." A carport, the couple told him, could do double duty as an automotive shelter and as a garden-party roof. He agreed, remembering the carports called "kinchos" he'd seen in Argentina, which creatively feature brick walls with built-in barbecues for entertaining: "In fact, the kincho is an outdoor room; the car will go there, but they'll move the car out in the evening [or]on the weekends."
The many carports in his childhood neighbourhood near Scarborough's Birchmount Road and Lawrence Avenue provided inspiration also: "I think about how useful they were; if it was raining out, you'd get under the carport and you could hang out, play games, whatever, because they were open."
After studying the Dillon property inside and out, Mr. Fujiwara realized the new carport would dominate the view from the kitchen window "where you spend 90 per cent of your time." For that matter, it would also dominate during the 10 per cent of the time the couple would be sitting on the deck right outside that window. Therefore, a boring flat roof just wouldn't do, so the 57-year-old started to think of angles: What if the corner that faced the kitchen was tilted dramatically upward to reveal its structure? What if one of the back corners bent down and the other up? Not only would this make for an interesting shape to gaze upon, but it would allow water to drain back onto the property, where a rain barrel could be located.
The final sketch of this 24-by-15-foot "twisted trapezoid" took about an hour to complete and a week to model on the computer. After an engineer was consulted about wind and snow loads, and made his recommendations about post and beam sizes and how deep to dig the holes, it took about three weeks to build (once the city workers' strike was over this past summer) by contactor Mike Heron and crew using material available from the local lumberyard: "We don't want to get precious with this thing," says Mr. Fujiwara, laughing, pointing out that only the metal "saddles" that connect the galvanized posts to the LVL (laminate veneer lumber) beams were custom-fabricated.
During construction, two key alterations were made to the design as it appeared on paper: Because all agreed that asymmetry was a good thing, one side of the roof support beams were left hanging out a little further over the main beam rather than being trimmed to match the other side; the shed, as drawn, stretched all the way up to meet the roof but it was shortened at the last minute so more daylight could peek through, and yet another angle could be added to the composition. "Sometimes, these things," muses Mr. Fujiwara, "you work it all out, you spend a lot of time drawing it and then it's still not good enough, you can still make improvements on site."
The only other improvement, really, would be to place this exuberant and sculptural carport in the front yard; sitting secretly in the backyard as it does, this "monument" - as Midori calls it - can only be enjoyed by a few. "My husband sits out here every morning just having his coffee and then he comes in the house and says, 'I love our house!'" she confirms with a big smile.
Lowly carport? No way. This is high design on a small scale, proving that good architecture can rekindle the romance between home and homeowner.
Special to The Globe and Mail