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Terrace House modern © PortLiving
Terrace House modern © PortLiving

Making Terrace House a Reality: Shigeru Ban's Epic New Design

Picture of Amber C. Snider
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 19 June 2017

PortLiving CEO Macario “Tobi” Reyes discusses his collaboration with internationally-renowned architect Shigeru Ban to build the world’s largest hybrid timber structure.

In the summer of 2016, Pritzker-prize winner Shigeru Ban and Vancouver-based developer PortLiving announced plans to create a record breaking residential building made of “hybrid timber”— a mixture of locally-sourced wood, concrete, and glass. Dubbed the Terrace House, the edifice mirrors the aesthetic principles found in the neighboring Evergreen Building – a landmark structure designed by the late architect Arthur Erickson. 

We spoke with PortLiving’s CEO, Macario “Tobi” Reyes and architectural consultant Bill Jackson to find out more design details and how they’re making the Terrace House a reality.

Terrace House & Evergreen Building © PortLiving

Amber C. Snider: What were/are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in making this building a reality?

Macario “Tobi” Reyes: As a developer, one of the biggest issues is finding land in Vancouver. We got lucky—we found the perfect site, in the most desirable neighborhood, in one of the hottest markets in the world. We took that lot and then took practical steps in thinking about who would we want to work with on this.

The second big challenge for developers is to have the right vision for the site. I have to admit, I didn’t have the right vision right away. It was with inspiration from [the architect] Shigeru Ban that the pieces [finally came] together. Finding the land and developing the vision were definitely the biggest hurdles. But they came together in the perfect way.

ACS: How did you end up working with Shigeru Ban on this project?

MTR: I’ve always been a big admirer of Shigeru Ban. It was almost like a childhood dream [to work with him]. I just sat down and said to myself, “Who in my wildest dreams could I get for this project?” I thought of Shigeru. His name popped in my head right away, and it kind of snowballed from there.

Terrace House Model © PortLiving

ACS: What specifically about his work inspires you? Do you have a favorite building?

MTR: [Probably] the Osaka Building. It accomplished a lot in a small space, in tight conditions – and did it beautifully. That’s one of the buildings that I’d say was really influential for me. I [also] love examples of his indoor/outdoor work, [particularly] his building in New York – the Metal Shutter Houses.

ACS: What is particularly special about the architectural achievements of the Terrace House?

Bill Jackson: In terms of the design [it would be] the geometry: its mapping, massing and its details in respect of the Erickson building. The use of squares and triangles that are equal and/or proportionate to each other, and are applied in both plan and elevation.

ACS: How does Terrace House complement Arthur Erickson’s neighboring Evergreen building?

MTR: I think to react and to relate to any architectural work is difficult to begin with, because you want to do it in a way that is sensitive and yet individual. That’s an important piece of what Shigeru is doing. If you look at [Terrace House] from any angle, it can sit alone, but when you put [it] together with the Evergreen Building, the story is complete.

Arthur Erickson | © Simon Fraser University, University Communications/ Flickr

ACS: You’ve mentioned that Terrace House utilizes or mirrors certain design principles from the Evergreen Building. Aside from the geometric similarities, are there any other similarities with the buildings?

BJ: The base of the [Terrace House] is concrete, which is also what the Erickson building is, and we’re trying to match that coloring. It’s very important that we not paint the concrete, [and that] the coloring is inherent in the stone.

We also have expressed timber. Above the Erickson building, the timber is actually expressed—meaning the timber is exposed [to the exterior]—and you can also see the timber through the glazing. Within the interior space, the timber is [also] exposed.

ACS: Will any of the timber have to go through treatments through the years? What about weathering or upkeep?

BJ: There is no weathering for that because all of the timber is behind the glass.

ACS: Oh I see! That wasn’t clear in the renderings – it looked external…

BJ: Yes, exactly. The glazing that we’re using is as clear as we can possibly make it. Expressly so that the timber is visible.

Terrace House Model © PortLiving

ACS: Regarding sustainability, are you all aiming for LEED or WELL certification?

MTR: The quick answer is no. But we align with Shigeru Ban’s perspective that good design inherently considers practicality, economy, and reduced waste. We used mass timber [which is] a renewable resource, and uses less fossil fuel, less emissions, and captures more carbon.

As it relates to the building, 40% of it is mass timber. If you can imagine the next wave of buildings being any proportion of that timber, think of [the] impact that would have as a sustainable step.

ACS: You have quite an impressive lineup of professionals working on this project – Shigeru Ban, mastercraftsman Hermann Blumer, landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander. What’s it like collaborating with such a creative team?

MTR: I guess one word would be ‘Wow’. It’s a dream come true. Completely humbling for me to be an audience member and a participant. Blumer, for instance, is perhaps the world’s foremost timber engineer. We were having dinner in Vancouver last year and he goes: ‘Would you mind if I invited my wife to the opening of the building? Because never this late in my career would I have thought this was possible.’ And to me, hearing that, it made me feel so special to have him.

ACS: It sounds like there was a lot of humility in that statement, too.

MTR: Yes! They’re all professionals and they’ve taken their craft to a level that we’ve all never seen before. To be on the same project together, to see that collaboration in play, and then to be a part of it, it’s such a rare and unique experience.

Shigeru Ban © 準建築人手札網站/Wikimedia

ACS: Bill, what are your thoughts on the team?

BJ: Hermann Blumer has had a long standing relationship with Shigeru Ban. They recently completed the Aspen Art Museum, and they used a material that [was] supplied from British Columbia, [which is the] same firm involved in our project.

It’s been a wonderful, ongoing experience to work with Shigeru Ban Architects, and a great reminder of when you have great design, [there’s a tremendous] amount of detail that is required to actually execute that design, at every level. We really need to push the envelope and that requires expertise, but also patience to work together as a team. So yes, it’s been a great honor for me to be involved with all of these folks.

ACS: Is there any city that you think is doing really cool things in design and architecture right now? Either in sustainable or green initiatives, or just any city we should watch out for on the design front?

MTR: We love the potential for Seattle. What Amazon is doing downtown, and just the bringing liveability back into the core. We very much focused on urban environments – Manhattan is an inspiration for everything it’s doing, especially with all these different architects and designers collaborating. I mean, we’d love to participate more in [that dialogue].

Toronto is quite exciting right now. I don’t think good design necessarily brings higher housing costs. In fact there are solutions that can be afforded with good design work in collaboration with good developers. So I think there’s a bright future for the industry.

Evergreen Building in Vancouver, Canada © jmv/Flickr

ACS: Specifically regarding the the urban landscape, you mentioned the word ‘liveability’. How do you define that word in your own terms?

MTR:  I think there are layers to that. For me it becomes very personal. Affordability is one layer and the neighborhood another – for me, a diverse community to add to a building and its aesthetic helps complete the picture. Infrastructure is one, transit, neighborhood amenities, shopping, retail – that’s all key to the urban fabric.

If I may add, I believe that livability is the ultimate luxury…There is a major responsibility to produce developments that enhance the human experience, that allow us to connect with one another and improve our daily life.  Successful projects consider all of these facets.

ACS: I love that you said that good design doesn’t necessarily have to come at a high cost. It’s an important idea that’s on a lot of people’s minds lately – this notion that you can actually save money in the long run by implementing good design.

MTR: Good design, also, I believe is contextual in that regard. Whether it’s geographically contextual, or cultural contextual.

BJ: [Liveability] is also having access to the enjoyment of the community in which you’re living; so the architecture has really got to relate to that experience. Terrace House does that in a really great way. There’s access to an adjacent park, indoor/ outdoor access to the residence, as well as the visual enjoyment from within the community of this piece of architecture.

Evergreen Building © Lisa Parker/Flickr

MTR: I think it’s really important that [this building] has aesthetic value and internal warmth. The wood plays a big role. When you’re 19 stories up and you’re in a home and you have that feeling of the wood around you…that’s a really unique and different kind of liveability that we haven’t seen before, as well.

ACS: Before our conversation, I didn’t even think of how that use of interior wood would add this sense of comfort to the home. Are you all hiring separate interior designers or will you keep it all in-house with your current team?

MTR: Generally Shigeru is also playing the lead design role here. But we using are team and local architects to complement his work.

Terrace House model @PortLiving