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ARTHUR ERICKSON

Arthur Erickson, photo by John Macdonald

Pacific Northwest Modern Master

by BUILD LLC

Erickson was quoted as saying, “If you can design a house, you can design anything.”  We’d like to think that this speaks to the complexity and serendipity involved in each residence.  While each house is unique to the clients, budget, environment, and available technology, Erickson developed common strategies to navigate through the design process.  These common strategies are fascinating to us for a number of reasons; it allows the process of design to be efficient amidst all the variables, it develops a visual language with each project, and it unites a population of projects with a collective vision. 

While Erickson created a substantial portfolio of civic, commercial and institutional work, this article will focus on his residential projects. 

Erickson’s wood framed homes pushed architecture into new territory in the Pacific Northwest and has influenced generations of architects since.  Erickson's growth as an architect is reflected in his fluency with a broadening range of building materials.

HERE IS A BREAKDOWN OF SOME OF HIS STRATEGIES WE FIND MOST COMPELLING:

Smith Residence, photo by Ezra Stoller

 

EMPHASIS OF POST AND BEAM CONSTRUCTION

It is said that Erickson was influenced by Native American dwellings with their simple and expressive timber frames. 

The differentiation between horizontal beams and vertical walls makes for a handsome composition in addition to being sensible in terms of physics, materials and methods.

 

 

 

 

Hillbord Residence, photo by Simon Scott

 

AUTHENTICITY

These homes look like what they are doing: beams look like beams, walls look like walls.  The materials reveal what they are in colour, texture, and physical ability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Graham Residence, photo by Ezra Stoller

 

VARIATIONS OF FLOOR PLANE

Erickson’s most interesting houses use the ground as a datum to add variety.  Within any given project the floor planes may be situated above, below, and flush to the exterior grade. 

The floor may bridge over a crevasse or span an outcropping rock.  The floor may resolve differences in the topography or call attention to irregularity.In a sense, it puts the focus back on the phenomenal geography found in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Helmut Eppich Residence, photo by Geoffrey Erickson

 

CASCADING TERRACES

Often the play between floor structure and topography allows for hillside terracing in Erickson’s projects. 

The terracing creates more surface for vegetation and space to enjoy the outdoors.  The terraced structures seem to hug the landscape and maintain a modest architectural gesture.

 

 

Graham Residence, photo by Ezra Stoller

 

CHANGING PERSPECTIVES

Because of the changes in floor plan and stepping of spaces, the experience of volume and view in these homes must be extraordinary. 

Often, even the roof was composed to be viewed from above - every bit as important as an elevation of the home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smith Residence, photo by John Fulker

 

EXPERIENCE OF LIGHT AND SHADOW

The clean structures lend to crisp shadows; the experience of light and shade changes over the course of a day.  At night the large expanses of glass glow like lanterns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helmut Eppich Residence, photo by Simon Scott

 

WATER AS A KEY ELEMENT

Erickson’s calm pools enhance the peacefulness of his projects.  It also creates an interesting relationship between the smooth, still surface of the water and the undulating topography.

 

 

 

 

Smith Residence, photo by Steven Zhen Wang

 

TRANSPARENCY

The walls of glass, so vital to these projects, allow nature to be the focus.  In the dark northwest winters they also allow complete infiltration of light to the interiors. 

Achieving such a clarity of built-form in the northwest is challenging.  The seismic zone requires large continuous shearwalls, the energy code limits the amount of glass and most window manufacturers are hesitant to warranty corner windows.

Craig Residence, photo by Simon Scott

 

DEFINING EXTERIOR ROOMS

Erickson’s projects do a brilliant job of making outdoor rooms.  The shape of the house or strategic placement of posts and beams can make outdoor spaces intentional and comfortable.

 

So there you have it – a few aspects we greatly admire about the work of Arthur Erickson.  Erickson was quoted as stating that, "Where I am or what I am is no concern of mine. I want to make what I build look as if it just happened, nothing studied, no art or labour involved."

Arthur claims to have become an architect because of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright; today a new generation of architects can claim that they have become architects because of Arthur Erickson.

His projects are timeless examples of West Coast modernism and his lessons will be well remembered.  Arthur Erickson passed away on May 20th, 2009 at the age of 84 in Vancouver.  Cheers to the life and career of a master architect.

Article by BUILD LLC

Video Tour of Erickson's Bedford Lane

The Bedford Lane home located in Kelowna BC, was built in 1995. It was one of Arthur Erickson's later projects. Erickson built two homes of quality & distinction in the Okanagan including this expansive property situated on a 14 acre estate.

The extensive use of glass affords veiws of the grounds immediately surrounding the home which have been professionally kept by an award winning horticulturist. Beyond the grounds surrounding the home is a ravine and creeks abundant with natural beauty. The exterior of the home is a tasteful combination of Douglas fir & slate.

SEE BELOW FOR A VIDEO TOUR OF THE PROPERTY

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Jones Residence; Read about Terrence Gower's West Coast master piece built in 1970.

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