Clear Lake Cottage
Ben Rahn – A Frame Photography

Clear Lake Cottage

MJMA as Architects

OVERVIEW A Toronto family of five required a new four-season cottage to replace their existing 1950's structure. The goal was to blend with the rural character of the quiet lake community and provide a clean modern environment that engages the landscape and captures a 'cottage' feel.


CONTEXT The site is located on Clear Lake in Seguin Township, Ontario. The lot has a large frontage and an existing dock. The orientation is predominately to the east collecting warmth and direct light in the morning. The building sits quietly behind trees away from the water.


GOALS Outside of their direct program requirements there were two related and compelling goals the clients wanted to achieve. First they wanted all the benefits of modern design: clean lines, abundant natural light, connection with the outdoors; but they also wanted to blend contextually with the character and humility of the surroundings. Secondly, although they requested a winterized facility, they did not want to lose the connection with the land they had come to appreciate in their uninsulated, tin roofed dwelling.


APPROACH It was decided a peaked sloped roof would be used. This could achieve an ambiguously modern vernacular feel and was beneficial for snow and water shedding. Termed the 'Campsite' [like tents around a campsite]. This approach yielded interesting opportunities to define exterior spaces. To meet the budget a singular and rational peaked roof system was employed- 'the Bigtop' a single tent pole supporting a giant hip roof housed the volumes below.


PLANNING The program was consolidated into 4 logical masses: Master Suite, Bedrooms, Utility/Den and Living Space. These masses we arranged in terms of degree of Privacy required; north to south. It was then determined which spaces would have forest views and which would have lake views. The masses were arranged to frame exterior spaces and capture an ambiguous indoor/outdoor condition. The plan was rationalized as a rectangle then skewed to a trapezoidal shape to maximize the lake front exposure.


BUILDING EXPRESSION The resulting formal expression of the building expressed an archetypal 'house' quality. Roof and walls merge in a singular streamline form. This form captures within it outdoor spaces creating a spatial continuum inside and out. The massing along the forest side became connected above by an open loft space. This bedroom /utility bar is treated as a stained pine slat ‘Black Box’ and is an extension of the materiality of the exterior.


EXTERIOR Punctures to the building envelope, and exposure of the Douglas Fir roof and wall structure capture outdoor space, and create a spatial continuum – a porosity of inside to out.


Taking cues from the client’s fondness for Scandinavian fishing shacks, with their pine tar-painted cedar, the building is clad in black corrugated metal, a cost effective North American interpretation of this shoreline aesthetic. The result is decidedly modern, but raw and industrial too.


This approach to a ‘high and low’ material palette and divergent typologies is a strategy to disarm the precious nature of ‘designed’ space.


INTERIOR The interior is detailed to contrast the exterior black cladding. The interior material palette of Sapelle window frames, retroplate concrete floors, and Douglas Fir plywood works as a visual counterpoint to the dark, textured exterior finish. This conceptual reading reinforces the Scandinavian influence.


Douglas Fir plywood was selected based on the client’s preference for a non-drywall interior shell. Exposed areas of Douglas Fir framing are either open to above (morning terrace) or clad with smoke tinted corrugated acrylic (arrival spaces). The rooms along the forest side support an upper open loft space. This bedroom /utility bar is treated as a stained oak ‘Black Box’ and is an extension of the materiality of the exterior – signifying enclosure.


The screened porch has a bi-folding partition opening it to the cottage interior. 50% of the glazed envelope can be left in the ‘open’ screened position allowing for the cottage to be exposed to breeze, fragrances, acoustics, and shadow play – capturing the natural feel of the site.


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