a retrospective on an unsung hero in modern residential architecture right here in vancouver is now online. daniel evan white has been designing modernist houses around vancouver for decades and has greatly influenced the way i think about modern architecture. his designs are never boring or ‘status quo’. his play of geometry and angles always push the design in a most fascinating direction and create a unique way of living. take a browse through the website at http://www.danielevanwhite.ca and see for yourself.
many mansions of daniel evan white – pdf of article from western living may 1985
article about daniel evan white written by hadani ditmars:
canadian architect daniel evan white has a gift for using the landscape to create pitch perfect homes .
vancouver-based architect daniel evan white was never a follower of style or trend. he marched to his own inner design drum, producing dozens of exquisitely executed houses, and a handful of public projects, largely confined to coastal british columbia.
in a way, dan was a post – postmodernist, says long time client maureen lunn, who has had two residences designed by white. while he hit his stride in the 1980s, just as fussy post-modern flourishes like arches and colonnades were gaining in popularity, white stuck resolutely to his modernist principles of clean, simple lines, bold geometry and wright-inspired organic architecture. his uncompromising approach may have been considered unfashionable at the time, but he has since acquired a cult-like following among earnest young architecture students and a whole new generation of aesthetic purists.
now 77 and retired, white spent his working life designing deceptively simple yet complex structures that defied conventional wisdom – and often gravity – frequently for seemingly impossible sites. homes on remote islands, on steeply graded cliff sides, at the oceans edge, residences that emerged out of ancient bedrock, surrounded by forest and soaring into the canadian sky. they celebrated and, indeed, amplified the beauty of their sites, but they were also noted for an intellectually rigorous aesthetic where precision and symmetry were counterbalanced by dramatic sculptural form.
there was nothing shy or retiring about white’s design, or his daring engagement with wilderness sites. however, his colleague russell cammarasana recalls that his former mentor had absolutely no interest in self-promotion. as a result, white’s work is largely unrecorded. there are some images, but no project descriptions, save for a couple of articles in provincial magazines, and very little architectural criticism. cammarasana and white’s family share the archive of his hand-drawn sketches and plans. he never used computer-generated images, and for many years his office was an unassuming coach house with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
unlike his friend and one time architecture professor arthur erickson, white received almost no international commissions. instead, he was content building off grid and out of the public eye. if Eerickson had more in common with the flamboyance of his patron, former prime minister pierre elliott trudeau, white was more the glenn gould of canadian architecture. in many ways, he lived in his own world. working in his office often felt like living in a bubble, says cammarasana.
dan had a kind of childlike innocence, says lunn. he was an artist, [in fact, white started out as a painter before entering architecture school in his early 20s] not a businessman. despite his love of beauty and luxury, and his many wealthy clients, he faced constant financial struggles, and sadly was never able to build a house for his own family.
but he was absolutely dedicated to his craft, and to his clients. dan was the kind of architect people with impossible sites and unrealistic budgets would approach, says cammarasana. and he never let them down. when bridge engineer peter taylor and his wife gillian acquired a waterfront property in west vancouver in the mid-1970s – a steeply graded, semi-wild forested site that dropped dramatically down to the ocean – they turned to white for a residential design that would work on the site.
dan marched around for a while in the thick bush, recalls peter taylor. He eventually emerged on top of a rock above a 6m high cliff face and expansively spread his arms, proclaiming, “the house must span across this gulley, creek and all”. gillian and i contemplated this breathtaking concept and then informed dan that it was a crazy idea. however, dan persevered. after a topographical survey of the lot, the architect prepared a relief model of the site and inserted a model of the house: it was a perfect fit.
indeed, the resulting residence, built from concrete, glass and wood, fuses seamlessly with its site despite its generous 269 square meters. the transparency of the approach is countered by an intimate, almost cave-like entrance area, an alcove that acts as a refuge from the open water. a large, solid hemlock door opens for the big reveal : a breathtaking view of a heart-pounding 12m drop to the seafront below.
while the north-facing entrance to the house draws one in, its south, sea-facing facade is the most monumental. designed to appear as if it had been carved from the cliff, it features a long, steep, concrete and steel stairwell that seemingly floats in mid-air. while some essential principles of organic modernism imbued all of white’s work, each of his houses is notable for its utterly unique form. when the mcilveens asked white to design a floating home for them in semi-rural delta, just south of vancouver, in the late 1980s, he created a child’s toy of a house on a tiny 9m x 12m footprint. using a variety of geometric shapes, the rigorous composition of cubes, cylinders and spheres is arranged around a series of interlocking l-shaped columns rising up the full three floors of the home and anchoring it in an essential tension between the orthogonal and the oblique.
by setting the mcilveen house at a 45-degree angle to the site, he ensured privacy from neighbouring homes and oriented the house west towards river and sea views, creating a heightened sense of spaciousness. with a simple palette of red cedar, glass and terracotta tiles, he created a unique space that plays with solidity and transparency throughout.
the first of two helix-like stairwells winds its way from a hooded, inward-looking first floor to the second floor that explodes into a light-saturated open living space. a curvilinear enclosed balcony offers a view of the water, while the kitchen curves out toward cast-facing glazing. above it looms a large cedar sphere, studded with recessed lights, that contains the third floor master bathroom and sauna. at night, the giant orb appears luminescent, and from a distance, the house looks rather like a kashmiri pavilion set on the moon.
a walk up the second spiral staircase reveals a different aquatic view with each tread, while the semicircular balcony, framed by rectangular hoops, opens up to the coastal scenery. the cedar orb of the master bath hovers nearby, like a west coast version of the orgasmatron from woody allen’s sleeper. off the bath, the snug master bedroom reads like the lair of a vaguely psychedelic sea captain. this is a floating home that dares to domesticate the ephemeral.
to say that his approach to residential design was unique is perhaps an understatement. when white was asked by his friends gavin and lynne connell to build a cottage on galiano island in the early 1970s, his response was to subvert the traditional cabin by designing a home formed from a series of vertically-oriented logs arranged in three circles. in a neat trick of wright-inspired sacred geometry-meets-child’s fort, the house is planned as a hexagon. the outer structure consists of three identical entrance ways with floating cedar log stairwells, like ceremonial steps to a woodsy ziggurat. in between each are three decks framed by a circle of logs that extends all the way up to the roof. while the house appears like a log fortress from a distance, most of the outside walls are clear glazing, and light spills down from the plexiglas studded roof.
the house is marked by a fusion of inside and outside, with specially angled glass corners that fool many visitors into confusing the two. weight-bearing log columns with fitted slats are split in two by the glazing. at night, when the logs are lit, the distance between the two spaces disappears altogether.
sadly, white was too ill to finish his ten-years-in-the-making masterpiece, the lunn residence on bowen island, and it was left to cammarasana to execute white’s design. the handcrafted, custom-designed interior, that reads like couture architecture, is exquisite. but the exterior, set on a 111-acre semi-wild site, is pure sculpture.
placed so as to maximize the stunning sea view and nestled into a natural depression in the rocky landscape, the houses defining feature is its bronze, hyperbolic paraboloid roof, which defines the dynamic interior spaces. from the road, the house is almost invisible, but it gradually opens up counter clockwise to reveal a three-storey edifice with wraparound decks of cantilevered glass that embrace the surrounding landscape. the interior is defined by a floating spiral staircase that descends into the library, contrasting with three glazing-heavy rooms that open up to the water views. like many of white’s residences, the house is a study in symmetrical precision and pitch perfect siting. his houses have an explicit relationship with their surroundings, their robust forms simultaneously modern and timeless. white was a man of few words, says lunn. instead, his legacy is more than capable of speaking for itself.
here is the link to the pdf of the article