We purchased 193 Cowley Avenue in August 2004 as the location for a new house and a home that we had been dreaming of building. We were attracted by the mature treed neighbourhood, unhealthy the close proximity to amenities and services and by the wonderful maple tree that graced the front part of the lot.
Around the time of the purchase of the lot, which at the time contained a small 1½ storey, one bedroom, 80 year old house, we contacted the City and had an arborist attest to the health of the tree and provide us with ideas as to how to protect it during the future redevelopment of the site. The assessment determined that the tree was about 60 years old, that it was in its prime and that with care and attention that it could survive the construction of a new house.
As word got around on Cowley Avenue that 193 had been sold to new owners with redevelopment plans, we were approached by, and heard of, a number of neighbours concerned that we would cut down the maple and overdevelop the lot with a large out of scale house. Concern was particularly focused on the possible loss of the tree which dominates the east side of the middle of the block and has an almost perfectly symmetrical crown, which has sustained no pruning damage to accommodate hydro, telephone or cable lines. Our standing on the street was soon elevated when we described our plans to maintain the grandeur of the tree and to build the house and take full advantage of all that the tree had to offer for both site aesthetics and environmental conservation.
In August of 2006 we retained David Cole, of Cole and Associates, to design the house that we now live in. David happily accepted our brief to design a house that would be energy efficient, environmentally friendly and that would preserve and integrate the maple tree into the house design and footprint. The design and construction of the house remained faithful to these objectives.
To ensure the long term health of the tree the house was set back further on the lot than other houses on the block. Keeping the house an appropriate distance from the major part of the tree’s crown and roots and maintaining the required 25ft setback from the rear property line became two of the major determinants of the house’s footprint on the lot. The design of the house takes full advantage of the cooling shade that the tree provides in the summer and the sun that it allows to penetrate and warm the house in the winter. The west facing windows, front porch and upstairs balcony are all designed to take full advantage of the tree at all times of the year. The upstairs balcony is a particularly favourite spot in the summer and fall, because of its close proximity to the upper spreading branches of the tree, which provide both shade and privacy.
Particular care was taken to protect and not to damage the tree during both the demolition of the small original house on the lot and during the construction. The general contractor we hired, Entreprises Beaudoin of Aylmer, was given very explicit instructions to care for the tree and these instructions were embraced fully. As an example, care was taken during excavation of the foundation to minimize damaging the roots and during the pouring of the foundation a very large concrete pump was hired to pump the concrete up and over the tree to access the foundation forms at the rear of the lot.
We moved into our new home in January 2008 and love it. Partly in honour of the tree and partly for family reasons, we named our house “Maplewood” and the name is proudly represented along with the house number in the stonework next to the front door. Our experience confirms that designing with nature can be made to work in an urban setting and that good design can work within site constraints, that in our case, were imposed by the existence of a large mature tree that fills the front part of the lot. We are convinced that the valuation of our house owes much to the preservation of the maple and designing the house around it.
Duncan Bury and Louise Atkins
193 Cowley Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 0G8