A demolition permit is expected to be issued this week, possibly as early as Monday, for an Arthur Erickson-designed house in West Vancouver.
The David Graham House, completed in 1963, helped kick-start Erickson's auspicious career. Set dramatically on a cliff "like a ladder," the house is multilevelled, with overlapping roofs and stacking terraces. "The living room is a hovering glass platform with marvellous twisted pines clinging to the rock around it," Erickson wrote in his 1975 book The Architecture of Arthur Erickson. "The master bedroom hangs over the sea and its bathroom opens on submarine windows into the swimming pool."
Erickson has credited the Graham House with launching his reputation as "the architect you went to when you had an impossible site."But in recent years, the house has fallen into a desperate state of disrepair. "Every beam is twisting and buckling, apparently," says West Vancouver Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.
Along with the Arthur Erickson Conservancy, Goldsmith-Jones has been exploring options to try to save the structure, but she admits that's unlikely.
"My talks with the owner indicate that they want to proceed [with the demolition]" she says.
Nicholas Olsberg, co-author of Arthur Erickson Critical Works and the former Director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, calls the pending demolition a "significant" loss. The house, he says, is one of a handful of surviving private residences Erickson designed during that era, that created a dialogue "between building and land. "[The Graham House]is essentially a series of great beams that suspend themselves on a hillside," he said from his home in Patagonia, Arizona. "It's almost like you've made a house that makes a geometrical topography that relates to the ungeometric one that's in the real world ... like you took down the fir trees and you laid them cross-wise to make the dwelling within a forest."
At the same time, Olsberg understands it might not be feasible for a private owner to restore a house built during different times. "[It's]quite a modest house. I don't know where you put your big flat screen TV without interrupting the architectural feeling of it."
Still, Olsberg says the house is architecturally significant and community efforts should be made to try to save it. The house is on West Vancouver's list of significant heritage properties, but the list has "no teeth," Goldsmith-Jones says, so the government can't stop the demolition. And while it has tried to delay issuing the permit, she admits that tactic won't be able to continue much longer. While it appears to be too late for the Graham House, the controversy has lit a fire under Goldsmith-Jones to take steps to protect the remaining architectural gems in West Vancouver. She hopes to have a new policy in place by March.