Archive for October 12th, 2010

Barton Myers house: contextual high-tech

Architect Barton Myers’ own residence at 19 Berryman Street in Yorkville is a high-tech icon amid rows of Victorian workers’ cottages. Completed in 1970 on a narrow 25-foot lot, the house was immediately celebrated as a prototype of urban infill for successfully balancing contemporary design with the scale and massing of its older neighbours.

Myers planned the two-storey structure around a large central atrium capped by a barrel-vaulted roof of translucent fiberglass. On the ground floor, the atrium separates the main entrance, garage and utility rooms at the front of the house from the kitchen and living area at the rear. Upstairs, the atrium is spanned by a steel bridge and staircase, which connects two children’s bedrooms, a bathroom and a study area in the front section with the master bedroom suite and library in the rear block. Awash in natural light, the atrium is the physical and psychological hub of the house for circulation, dining and entertaining.

Inside and out, the house’s industrial character is expressed by the bare concrete-block walls, visible structural steel and exposed mechanical and electrical systems. Floors are polished concrete, ceilings are ribbed steel decking and silvery air ducts wind their way throughout the neutral white interior spaces. Sail-like canvas panels can be extended across the atrium to retain heat or filter sunlight. To soften the starkness of these factory-like elements, Myers combined Modernist furniture with aged oriental rugs, colourful abstract art, abundant greenery and inherited antiques. Open to the living area, the south-facing rear garden is a lush, intimate outdoor room in the city, shielded by high walls and dense foliage. The gentle splash of water flowing into a rectangular reflecting pool adds to its tranquility.

The Myers house received numerous awards and has been extensively published around the world. Although steel never became a common material for houses, Myers continued to develop his approach to steel construction in the University of Alberta’s Housing Union Building (1972), the Wolf residence at 51 Roxborough Drive (1974), the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton (1976), the studio building for The Watt Group at 300 Bayview Avenue (1984) and, with his move to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, a number of his projects in the United States. The influence of the Myers house is also apparent in many of the laneway houses built in Toronto over the last two decades.

Period images of the Myers house can be found on the Barton Myers website.


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