Increasing urban density and bold, stylish design are two seemingly polar concepts, but for a recent project in Victoria, the two managed to meet in the missing middle.
Tucked behind the British Columbia legislature in James Bay, the understated four-storey Rotunda manages to rise over a neighbouring two-storey heritage building without overshadowing it. The modest 12-unit multiplex was erected on a lot where a 1½-storey detached house once stood.
“How do you take a single lot and develop a mid-rise form that strengthens the James Bay urban village?” asks Luke Mari, owner at Aryze, a development company that specializes in compact, urban infill acquisition and construction. Rotunda was the answer.
Mr. Mari says the company went through several architects before landing on D’Arcy Jones, the director of a firm based in Vancouver.
Mr. Jones grew up in Vancouver but spent a lot of time in James Bay. His knowledge and affinity for both areas is reflected in the exterior of his design which incorporates details from neighbouring buildings.
Brick is often married with black wrought iron in Victoria, a concept that is fluid throughout the charcoal trimmings on the windows, railing, and siding.
“The façade that you first approach references the brick next door,” says Mr. Jones, referring to The Redstone heritage building to the north that was once used as a stable for delivery horses in the 19th century.
The large curved openings that separate the two stacks of Rotunda are meant to capture the archways of the James Bay United Church around the corner.
The effect is a look that is modern, without looking brand new. “Super modern’s fine for a few years, but then it’s not fresh anymore,” says Mr. Jones, whose goal was to create something that is both lasting and “hard to date.”
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One of Mr. Jones’s core talents, according to Mr. Mari, is his ability to marry traditional materials with contemporary forms. The final design was a riff on the Odlum Street fourplex with courtyard by the late Vancouver architect Peter Cardew.
Residents of Rotunda enter their units via the central courtyard, an outdoor feature particular to the temperate Vancouver Island climate and enhanced by the curved design that lets in sunlight at midday and a breeze in the summer.
The building stands on a set of concrete pillars that convey both an awareness of the construction while obscuring open-air parking on the ground.
Above the first floor, Rotunda is set back from the street in order to match the building next-door, whose second floor is also recessed, ensuring that their outdoor patio space remains unobstructed. The sacrifice of floor space is an unimaginable consideration that Mr. Jones shrugs off as “the neighbourly thing to do.”
But Mr. Jones considered how everyone would experience the building, and it came at a great expense to the project. The red brick wraps all the way around to the neighbours’ parking to the north in order to preserve visual continuity from every angle.
“The whole project gets to have high quality materials, not just the part that helps a real estate ad, or a marketing campaign,” he says. Most important to his design, however, was to envision a place where people “arrive, and live, and visit, and spend time.”
There are seven different unit designs in Rotunda, ranging from studio to three-bedroom dwellings and in size from 450 to 1,400 square feet. There are two separate two-bedroom floorplans, one with stairs and one without, designed to accommodate different physical abilities.
The idea behind so many unit types was to capture different people at different stages of life, from students, to families, to folks looking to downsize. “The housing forms that we’ve seen in that area are galley-style townhouse projects that don’t relate to the street very well, and they don’t provide very much housing diversity,” says Mr. Mari, who added that 20 per cent of the units were more affordable, sold below market value.
This isn’t the only project on which D’Arcy Jones Architecture has collaborated with Aryze. The first development the team completed was Pearl Block, a cluster of six townhomes in the Oaklands district of Victoria built on a lot that had been vacant for nearly 65 years.
Designed with fellow architect Jesse Ratcliffe, Pearl Block bears a distinctive palette and structure to Rotunda but embodies the core attentiveness to how a building not only fits into a space, but exists. Above all, the two structures are built to last, acting as “one train of thought” strung across two buildings.
While rezoning the James Bay lot took a few years, the City of Victoria recently amended its bylaws to accelerate the creation of more housing stock in the missing middle. Since March 12, single-family homes no longer require rezoning to accommodate up to six units, and up to 12 if it’s a corner lot.
“Whenever everyone talks about where the sites are gonna be for these new apartments, well, this was just a house, so the sites are everywhere,” Mr. Jones says.
Rotunda is the result of an intimate study in Victoria’s architecture and an example to cities wishing to increase the missing middle housing stock in a way that is aesthetically striking without being shocking.