- SUMMER 2008


Architect John O’Connor talks to Kelvin Browne about THE VIEW

Kelvin Browne: You’re currently working on a large project on an island in Georgian Bay, Ontario. What are you learning from this experience?

John O’Connor: When you’re designing a house on a unique property, one with waterfront and spectacular views, for instance, it’s important that both the site planning and the design of the structures frame and edit what makes the property special. In other words, you don’t want to constantly focus on the “view” all the time. This single-minded approach diminishes the drama of a property – and likely the architecture, too.

KB: This is the problem with a house with gigantic picture windows and an obsession with views.

JO: Sites should have complexity. Making the most of a good view means seeing it in different ways and developing the landscape, so that it offers varied and interesting experiences. On an island, you should give opportunities to be away from the water, too – you can become indifferent to it because of constant exposure.

KB: People often feel a waterfront location does it all and their house isn’t important, other than those big windows, of course.

 Many houses on special properties are being built as retreats. They should feel different [from] a house in the city. [The house] should feel different [from] everyday life. [It] should enhance the quality of life on the site, not merely exploit its views. It’s wonderful to have a remarkable property to start with , but that doesn’t mean a house still doesn’t have to be a good place to be, just as if it were a house with conventional relationships to street and garden, or front and back.

Kelvin Brown is editor-at-large at INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN

A former bungalow, this Toronto ravine house was given a rustic great room that brings light in and opens up the space to the view of the valley.

A third-floor live/work space with a south exposure and an indoor-outdoor look pulls its inhabitants out to a rooftop deck at the end of the workday. A sandblasted glass shower placed at the bottom of the stairs adds an unexpected twist.

JOHN O’CONNOR received his environmental-studies and architecture degrees from the University of Waterloo. Studying extensively in Europe led to numerous work experiences for him in London in the late eighties and in Venice in the early nineties. The foundation of his Canadian experience was his work with famed architect Arthur Erickson. O’Connor is the principal of Toronto based architectural firm Basis Design Build Corporation.