Barry Downs Residence
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Downs Residence is a single-storey, wood-frame, stuccoed, flat-roofed structure secluded in a garden dominated by native tree species. It is located in the Dunbar-Southlands area of Vancouver.
The Downs Residence is significant for its historic, cultural and aesthetic values, in particular for the close connection between the living spaces and their naturalized setting. The home is characteristic of the local high-end residential design of the era, not only for the interplay of house and garden, but also for its location in a residential area of the city, developed for the elite and avant-garde in the decades immediately following World War II.
The building was created for his family by renowned local architect, Barry Downs, who also designed the garden as well as indoor and outdoor light fixtures and much of the furniture.
Built in 1959, this house and its accompanying landscape represent an especially fine example of a West Coast Modern home. This strain of Modernism is responsive to coastal conditions and is influenced by both the Californian scene and by Far Eastern material aesthetics. These concepts include the use of wood in its natural state and an emphasis on modular design. The house has a highly functional and efficient plan, indicative of Modernist formal planning and influenced, according to Mr. Downs, by the international and regional avant-garde architectural movements epitomized in design periodicals, specifically, the Italian magazine "Domos".
This home exhibits the modernization of the suburban domestic realm, which included uncluttered spaces, combined living room and dining room areas, and a private indoor/outdoor family space away from view of the street. The smallness of the kitchen and the four bedrooms exemplifies the modest spatial requirements common at the time. The landscaping is also a major design element, inspired by Japanese planting and landscape aesthetic, which featured species that would naturalize in harmony with the native plant material surrounding the site. The landscape planning satisfies the requirements for close interplay between indoor and outdoor spaces and for a private outdoor space, both of which were hallmarks of Modernist suburban residential design.
The Downs Residence achieves aesthetic value through its siting that allows for maximum privacy on a heavily landscaped lot, through its choice of unfinished or simply-finished materials that complement the natural setting, and through its subtle use of natural light. Considered to be unpretentious and beautiful in its time, the Downs Residence was one of 15 Canadian houses selected for the Massey Medal Exhibition in 1961.
Source: City of Vancouver, Heritage Planning Files
The character-defining elements of the Downs Residence include:
Siting, Context and Landscape
- Use of native and naturalizing plant material to produce a natural effect
- The interplay of interior and exterior spaces via glass walls
- Extensions of interior wall lines into the landscape
- Hierarchy of interior spaces
- Flat roof with skylights
- Dark-stained woodwork and trim
- Floor-to-ceiling windows in areas promoting the connection between indoors and outdoors
- Largely window-less, simply sand-plastered walls facing the street; largely glazed walls facing the
- Varying ceiling heights to hierarchy of spaces
- Formal, symmetrical plan with fireplace and service spaces on axis
- Natural cedar trim, screens and decks, stained fir beams, glass plate and white sand plaster on all walls, and light-stained millwork and doors
- Fireplace with simple concrete block facing, set off by full-height glazing on both sides
- Relative smallness of the kitchen, out of sight of the entertaining area
- Overall size of the house, displaying the modest space requirements of the time
- Integration of the house with its private landscape
- Native landscape elements, such as the vine maples, cedars, firs and ferns
- Simple cast-in-place concrete paving stones
- Simple wood-palette 'doormats' associated with exterior doors
City of Vancouver
Vancouver Charter, s.582
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Architecture and Design
Function - Category and Type
- Single Dwelling
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Vancouver, Heritage Planning Department Files
Cross-Reference to Collection