riba awards

Tula House






Tula House James Dow 10 

ARCHITECT: Patkau Architects

CLIENT: private

AWARDS WON: RIBA Award for International Excellence

Perched 44 feet above the Pacific Ocean on a remote island the architecture of the Tula house reflects an acute awareness of the magnificent and varied natural context of coastal British Columbia, from the glass walled panorama of the Coast Mountains to the intimate views of lichen covered granite rocks and tidal flotsam framed through selectively located views through both floor and walls.

The Tula House appears as a mysterious, dark, flat roof ending with an angular sheltered car port – past a prow and two further sharp points appear, one creating a black triangular keel projecting beyond a glazed corner and the other turning back away from this, framing a beautiful entrance court. Walls are clad in a near black cementatious boards, each fixed to overlap the other to add a facetted texture to the surface. 

The theme of triangular, fragmented forms is clear and the entrance court is a lozenge shaped embrace, literally wrapping you like arms welcoming you to the house. The entrance is across two pristine triangular concrete plates that seem to float above a dark water pool – the narrow slots between the planes revealing water rills. Another truth about this house is evident here: precision. The concrete is like parchment, superbly uniform in hue and texture, in a near white smooth finish. How could this happen here in the wilds? 

On plan, the Tula house defies logical analysis - no clear diagram is evident, rather it resembles a crazy, fragmented, zig-zag of a plan, folding in on itself around the entrance courtyard. Only one long straight line provides some kind of stability and this turns out to be the front of the house, a glass wall facing the ocean.  

Each outside corner ends in a point, while each inner corner gently folds in on itself. Somewhat doubting the logic of this plan, it must be experienced in person, spatially rather than intellectually. Framed by the parchment-like concrete walls and floors and with a dark slatted timber ceiling above, the space flowed down a few steps to the panoramic frameless-glazed wall and the sublime view eastward across the Straits of Georgia to the mountains of British Columbia. Few homes in the world frame such natural beauty with such skill – the design sits back and lets nature shine. To the south of this sublime space a green wall is visible, with jungle-like plants like a Rousseau painting without the tigers and snakes – and this turned out to be the kitchen. An enclosed, folded-in space that ends in a glazed corner with a bright yellow seating area that seems to hang over the precipice. Implausibly sophisticated stainless steel and corian kitchen surfaces, and smooth triangular concrete floor plates, play off the top-lit jungle wall.  

Strangely, at no point walking through the house does it feel willful or mannered. Rather it feels natural and organic – spaces flow one to the other, the floor gently steps up the rock away from the living space. Internally the angularity only really becomes evident at the sharply chamfered ends of the walls and shards of glass floor panels – perhaps the only indulgence that feels like one step too far in the house. The skilful cohesion of the house is surely down to the controlled material palette of parchment white concrete, dark lacquered timber and warm hardwood flooring and fittings. The angularity within becomes peripheral. The dark timber ceilings, that match the dark outer cladding panels in colour exactly, are a perfect choice as their lustre pick up and reflects the light from the sea below so they often appear as if almost white.  

On the shoreline below were beached logs, or rather stripped trees, scattered around by tides and storms like giant ‘pickup sticks’ – and another parallel with the house above was evident. Walking down to the shoreline and across the giant pickup sticks, the house perches above the rock and looks sharp yet recessive in its dark livery, like a stealth fighter plane. The temptation to make it assertive as Meier’s Douglas or Smith houses in their strident white to contrast sharply with nature is avoided, instead, sharp in its geometry it hovers above the rock as if it had always been there.  

A truly original house, that somehow despite its fragmented, angular plan manages to be organic, yet its precision makes it a true product of the 21st century. Albert Frey made a house in Palm Springs around a large boulder that pierced the glazing to enter the home, Wright made Fallingwater with a boulder that heaved up out of the floor to make a kind of hearth, and here, the Patkau’s have made a unique house that perches atop a monumental boulder like a giant dragonfly. 

Definitely world-class architecture – and as a house, quite unique. Ernst Blofeld would be at home here. 


Contractor: J Toelle Construction Ltd

Structural Engineers: Peterson Galloway Ltd

Mechanical Engineer: Hirschfield Williams Timmins Ltd


COST: confidential

Date Of Occupation: 01/2016



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