Designing the future

Squamish’s unique interpretation of West Coast style

Let’s talk about Squamish style. With all of the construction taking place in town, is there a cohesive design trend that is emerging as distinctively Squamish? 

“I don’t think Squamish has its own vernacular at this point,” says Grant Gillies, a local developer and a member of the District of Squamish Advisory Design Panel. 

“We may have a semi-Whistler look, but I think Squamish is trying to move away from being Whistler’s little brother,” Gillies says. “I think some members of the design panel are trying to drive it in a direction, sort of more West Coast Contemporary.” 

West Coast Contemporary is a term that comes up repeatedly when architecture and design in Squamish are mentioned. And West Coast Contemporary or West Coast Modern pop up in marketing materials for almost every development currently underway. 

Wood is front and centre in West Coast Contemporary design, but even though Squamish was born and raised in the logging industry, other options are being used. 

Cor-ten steel, generically called “weathering steel,” is something Squamishers may see more of in future. 

“When it gets wet, it rusts really heavily to a bright, bright orange, but then it doesn’t corrode past that layer,” explains Chris Hunter, another member of the design panel. 

Think of it, perhaps, as a 21st century equivalent of the oxidized copper roof that has made the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver distinctive for so many decades and which is mimicked by other buildings in downtown Vancouver. 

The designers of that building put the copper roof on specifically because they knew it would turn green, not in spite of the fact. There is even a story, possibly an urban myth, that the installers were encouraged to urinate after they finished the job in order to hasten oxidation. 

Could weathered steel become a Squamish signature like green copper roofs are among Vancouver’s? It makes sense from a durability standpoint. 

But some people still like the look of traditional wood, including the diversity of colour it offers. The compromise here is Hardie siding, a manufactured, low-maintenance, durable cement-based option that looks like wood and comes with “baked-on” colour. 

Newport Landing, a 29-unit townhouse development, is one of the new developments employing Hardie plank exteriors to give the appearance of wood without the vulnerability, says Darren McCartney, an real estate agent who was part of the team that successfully sold out the project in days when it went on the market in late 2015. 

Skyridge, a collection of duplexes, townhouses and single-family lots in the Garibaldi Highlands, aims to capture the feeling of coastal living within the context of the coast mountains. The buildings and the landscape, according to the developers’ vision, are an interpretive expression of the architectural style typically associated with the inland forest setting. 

The 111-home Ravenswood development in Brennan Centre has three floor plans (“Wind,” “Earth” and “Water”), each of which offers exterior options in West Coast, Prairie or Modern style. While Prairie style may seem an odd fit for Squamish, its rendering by Benchmark Homes suits the area, with wood accents adjacent to dormered windows. 

Andrew Laurie, a real estate agent who, with partner Gena Belanger, is selling the homes, says the Prairie style speaks to a particular buyer. 

“There’s a lot of people who want a traditional home and the Prairie probably has more of a traditional look than the other two looks that we’re using,” he says. 

Among other developments recently completed or underway in town, some common design elements are evident, which may, over time, coalesce into a distinctive Squamish style. 

There is no question that “West Coast” is the consensus vernacular – both in the architectural sense and in the marketing materials – but like any design element, it is open to interpretation. 

Developers and their architecture and marketing partners seem to understand the past, present and imagined future of their desired clientele. Most are coming from Vancouver, facing unenviable choices given their real estate budgets and imagine at least an approximation of urban lifestyle combined with abundant outdoor recreational options. 

Gillies, for one, may have his target market pegged. For a generation economically locked out of the West Side of Vancouver, where modest, traditional-styled homes are being bulldozed for mansions, Gillies’ description of his company’s Abbey Lane, a 10-unit development of single-family homes in Squamish, may resonate with any frustrated or nostalgic Vancouverites looking to stretch their dollar: “Kitsilano charmer style.” 

For first-timers with dashed dreams of a single-family home in Kitsilano, or anywhere in the city, Squamish developers are pitching design elements that are financially unattainable in Vancouver and throwing in mountain views, kayaking, climbing, hiking, skiing and the promise of a more urban (and perhaps urbane) oceanside lifestyle at no extra charge. 

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