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Location: Charlottetown, PE
Function: Residential, Single-Family
Building Size: 2,100 SF
Status: Completed 2012

In responding to the owners' desire to design a small energy efficient home on an infill lot that is modern yet contextual, the design attempts to strike a balance between built form and outdoor space; between traditional neighbourhood forms and modern massing; and between traditional materials and contemporary detailing. 


58 Upper Hillsborough, located just north of Charlottetown’s historic 500 lot area, is a typical downtown lot measuring 50’ wide x 76’ deep with an area just over 3,800 SF.   One of the challenges in this project was to develop a design for a 2,200 SF house while creating outdoor spaces that are functional, enjoyable and private.


The zoning regulations dictate that the setback of the house be the average of the neighbouring properties. Varying setbacks of the neighbours on either side of the property severely restricted the developable area.  By breaking the massing of the house into two volumes we were able to meet the city’s definition of average, while at the same time dividing the lot into four quadrants. The front and rear yard are divided by the living room / dining room volume, yet visually linked through large areas of glazing. The time of day, the amount of sunlight, and whether curtains are open or closed control the level of transparency through the house.

Rotating the second floor volume perpendicular to the 1st floor creates additional outdoor space.  This rotation creates a private roof deck located above the living room, accessed directly from the 2nd floor stair hall.  The dense tree canopy and solid guardrails surrounding the deck create a private urban tree house space.


On a small urban lot, 80% of the original site area is maintained to extend the interiors spaces through carefully framed views. The ratio of built form to open space maximizes rainwater infiltration, solar exposure and facilitates summer breezes.

The modern form of the design responds to the streetscape through building width and height, and additive forms. The rotation of the second floor volume is reflective of the typical gable end of traditional houses on the street. This second floor volume has an overall width of 20', a scale that is very familiar to the street.  The lack of traditional eaves and large roof overhangs are replaced with the cantilevered volume.  The traditional porches and small additions are reflected in the 1 storey high sections of the house.  These lower sections provide views through the lot and of the neighbouring house.


Building on scale, massing, and setback the design attempts to further address context through the use of traditional materials.  However rather than replicating traditional detailing, the design re-interprets traditional functional elements such as corner boards, belt-courses, and water-tables. 

Through collaboration with a local siding supplier and local craftspeople, traditional bevel siding is combined with a language of board and batten.  During the collaboration process it was learned that the wood siding supplier was burning short sections of wood siding, a less than desirable product for traditional wood sided homes.  A detail was developed to align or stack the short sections, thus controlling the joint locations and creating a texture and rhythm that provided scale and shadow, softening the simple box form of the house.  Traditional corner boards are re-worked, and appear to be recessed, expressing the planes of each façade as they come together.  The large overhangs at the front of the house are reduced, and continue around the house. The three-inch overhang of the second floor walls functionally replicate the water shedding features of a belt-course.

Interior spaces feel larger, through constant connection with the surroundings via strategically placed windows, and two large skylights on the second floor.  Nine-foot high ceilings on the upper level take modest rooms and create a sense of openness. 

The massing of the house creates shallow spaces that are washed with sunlight.  The floating tread staircase creates a visually transparent screen, filtering light from the second floor, while providing a visual focus for the open concept living room / dining room.


Double stud wall construction, triple glazed windows, low VOC paints and finishes, low flow fixtures, energy efficient appliances and lights, and an active rainwater collection system with 800 gallon capacity are just a few of the sustainable features in use at 58 Upper Hillsborough.


Prior to start of construction a diseased tree was harvested from the client’s family homestead, providing elm flooring and stair treads.  This adds a sentimental value to local material. 

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