At the Core of This Glassy Holiday Home: an Actual Apple Tree
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At the Core of This Glassy Holiday Home: an Actual Apple Tree

Architect Maxime Frappier has designed a series of modern houses, including one for himself with a tree growing out of its courtyard.

By Nancy Keates
Fri, Aug 12, 2022 9:51amGrey Clock 5 min

One of Maxime Frappier’s early designs for his dream holiday house in Saint-Donat, a small town 136kms north of Montreal, was completely round, like a hockey puck. A model shows it spiralling in a circle, looking somewhat like an Apple store version of a white spaceship.

“It was the best house I’ve ever drawn,” says Mr. Frappier, 45, a principal in Montreal-based architectural firm ACDF.

His wife, Marie-Andrée Lahaie, 45, a psychologist, pointed out the impracticalities. It would be difficult to put furniture in a house with curved concrete walls. The cost to build it would be too high, she said.

“It was not well received,” says Mr. Frappier “So I changed strategies.”

The finished house is still decidedly modern—almost transparent with glass walls, a flat roof and a minimalist aesthetic. But he squared off the curves, resulting in a series of boxes and a rectangular central courtyard.

Located on a 6-acre lot he bought for about US$233,000, it has 371sqm  on its two levels, four bedrooms, three bathrooms and cost about US$681,000 to construct. It was finished in 2021.

The focal point is an apple tree, planted in a courtyard and visible on all sides through glass walls. The tree is a nod to the apple orchard where he spent summers as a child, creating houses out of empty apple crates in the centre courtyard with his siblings. Eventually, the apple tree will grow through the opening above and shade the house.

The main living area of the house, with the kitchen and living room, is transparent and made of glass. Sitting in the media room, looking at it across the courtyard, gives the impression of watching a play. Mr. Frappier intentionally made it so that someone walking out from the more private bedroom boxes of the house can see from afar what’s happening in the kitchen, allowing what he calls a gradual transition from being alone to being together.

The colour scheme is black and white, with black counters, cabinets and door frames set against the stained white pine on the ceilings. The floors are grey concrete and the cedar on the exterior is stained black.

Despite its lack of curves, Mr. Frappier says he is happy with the final design. “Limitations catalyze new ideas,” he says.

Finding a balance between creativity and practicality, or, as Mr. Frappier puts it, “European flamboyance and North American pragmatism,” is what dominates his growing body of work. ACDF has won many prestigious awards for its portfolio of hotels, office and residential buildings and arts centres across North America and Asia.

Though his ultimate goal is to design an iconic building somewhere like New York or Chicago, a no-holds-barred commission, Mr. Frappier says he knows that the real achievement is to come up with ideas and fresh insights for every project he does. The challenge is to infuse imagination and emotion in a manner that meets the demands of the site, budget and clients needs, he says.

This duality of creativity and constraint is illustrated in a series of single-family homes he has designed in the lake- and mountain-filled region of northern Quebec. His clients say that even though they were aware of Mr. Frappier’s modern aesthetic, they were still surprised—one used the word “shocked”—by the first designs he presented to them.

“What he came up with was not at all what I asked for,” says Stephanie Daignault, 49, who hired Mr. Frappier to design a new 929sqm holiday cottage for her family of four, estimated to cost around US$5.44 million, currently under construction along the shores of Lake Archambault in Saint-Donat.

Ms. Daignault requested a traditional, Western-style house with a sloped roof. What she is getting is a “modern reinterpretation,” says Mr. Frappier, with enormous glass windows and a massive flat roof, part of which cantilevers over the back patio.

Still, Ms. Daignault says she loves it because it represents the fundamentals of her request, with the warmth she was seeking with lots of wood and stone, but at a “higher level.”

“If I had done what I wanted at the beginning I’m not sure I would have liked it as much,” she says.

Another, more extreme, example of injecting individuality, despite a limited budget, is a house Mr. Frappier designed for Olivier Cuilleret, 47, a headhunter, and Denise Bernachez, 45, a sales executive, on the shores of Lake Ouareau near Saint-Donat.

To keep the cost at around US$428,000 for the four-bedroom, 260qm  house, Mr. Frappier kept most of the windows and doors at a standard size and made the structure simple enough that any local contractor could easily build it.

What makes it stand out is its ceiling: Mr. Frappier used white pine, shaping it in a curve like the hull of a wooden boat and lowering it to 8 feet as it approached the glass doors to maintain a more affordable, standard height, then letting it soar back up to 12 feet at the centre of the room. “It’s only one gesture but it makes a huge difference,” says Mr. Frappier.

Mr. Frappier’s most well-known house is a 130qm addition, which cost about US$311,000 to build, at a holiday home along Lake Ouareau. Called Chalet La petite soeur, or “little sister,” it was built in 2018 for Benoit Dubord, 48, a lawyer and entrepreneur, who had recently remarried and wanted a house that would look both to the past and the future for his blended family.

To blend the old and the new, Mr. Frappier designed the addition as an exaggerated, modern version of the traditional, rustic Canadian log cottage that was already there. It mimics the pitched roof, but is pointier and clad in sheet metal; it also has wood siding, but it is painted all white. The addition has polished concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling glass in the back, looking out to the lake. A glass bridge with wood floors and ceilings connects the old to the new.

Such individuality can also mean a house can be tricky to sell, which Mr. Dubord is trying to do at the moment. He recently listed the house for $1.56 million. “You need someone who appreciates the contrasts,” says Mr. Dubord.

As Mr. Frappier found, even selling individuality to his own wife was tricky. But he hasn’t given up on his dream hockey puck-like house. He’s just waiting for the appropriate time and place, he says.

He estimates it would have cost about $389,000 more to build because everything would have had to be curved, including the windows, concrete foundation walls, exterior cladding, flat roof and gypsum wall.

Across the street in Saint-Donat, his wife’s parents live in a cozy traditional cottage. On a recent June morning, his mother-in-law, Lyse Lahaie, 72, a retired teacher, joked that she has an idea of when that appropriate time and place might occur.

“One day, I’m sure, when we are gone, Maxime will tear this down and make a modern house,” she says.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 11, 2022.




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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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