Tula House, Quadra Island, Canada

Tula House, Quadra Island, Canada


On a wild coastal stretch of Canada’s Quadra Island, Patkau Architects have built an extraordinary single family house that blends into the island’s natural environment while at the same time perfectly showcasing its rough beauty. The sea and its tidal impacts served as inspiration for the carefully designed layout and shape of the structure.

Mirko Beetschen It must be every architect’s dream project: to be commissioned for a house on a unique site in a remote natural setting and to enjoy the client’s full trust. “Aside from requiring a simple list of spaces, the client left the development of the house completely up to us,” architect John Patkau says. The owners of a dilapidated cottage on the eastern coast of Quadra Island wanted “an architecturally designed house that responds sensitively to the rich and varied setting,” he continues. Besides a dwelling for themselves, the house, nearly six hours north of Vancouver, was also to become the informal headquarters for the couple’s Tula foundation, a family organization that serves as patron to healthcare and environmental initiatives. Quadra Island is the largest of the Discovery Islands, situated northwest of Vancouver in the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The more than 26,000-squaremeter plot encompasses a stretch of rocky shore with the actual building site on top of a thirteen-meter-high cliff that is surrounded by an archetypal Canadian landscape full of moss-covered basalt hills, red alder, maple and— predominantly—Douglas fir trees.


©James Dow

The topography of the site is highly irregular. One site is actually many sites. The building reflects the irregularity of the land’s rock ledges, beach and forest in both its geometric and spatial order.

John Patkau, architect


©James Dow

Back to square one

Before the actual construction began, the derelict cottage was torn down, the previous fill-ups were cleared away, and the natural terrain exposed. Building on this original situation, the architects organized the one-story house as a series of shard-like concrete plates spiraling around a central courtyard like a seashell. Another inspiration for this arrangement and the shape of the house was the debris washed on the shore below, the natural flotsam and jetsam of the Pacific’s tides that leave logs, branches, and rocks behind “like a child’s game of pickup sticks,” as the architects describe it. The overall structure is concrete, only the roof and cantilevered floor—jutting over the rocky beach and the ocean below—are steelframed. The day rooms are placed here, along the south and east sides of the house, the fully glazed fronts offering unrestricted views of the water, the islands on the Strait of Georgia, and the mainland of British Columbia with its distant mountain ranges. On the other side, toward the north, lie the bed- and bathrooms, enjoying peaceful prospects of the green basalt hills in the back.


©James Dow


©James Dow

Blending in

Even though Patkau Architects make a bold statement with their Tula House, the 420-square-meter, one-story building is carefully woven into the landscape. Architecture and nature, interior and outside blend. The main spaces fan out around the courtyard to capture the generous water views, while the secondary rooms focus on singular elements in the variegated landscape, like a moss-covered rock or a swath of trees. Shafts of natural light enter the building through narrow skylights, and the cantilevered part even features triangular floor windows, through which one can see the beach and ocean below. The building’s main theme— water—also appears in a shallow pool of groundwater within the courtyard. On the outside, the concrete and framed walls are clad in Swisspearl panels. “The reason we chose fiber cement,” says architect John Patkau, “in addition to its technical characteristics, was that we needed a monolithic material that could be arrayed overlappingly. We wanted to create a serrated wall profile that would show the animated character of sun and shade on the building surface.” The charcoal color together with the moss-covered roof helps merge the cliff-top house into its environment. Along with the native vegetation that the architects and owners replanted, the new structure today all but disappears within the dark woods and rocks.


©James Dow


©James Dow


The building reflects the irregularity of the land’s rock ledges, beach, and forest in both its geometric and spatial order.

John Patkau, architect


Long experience

Spouses Patricia and John Patkau founded their architectural office in 1978. Today, the Vancouver-based company is co-headed by partners Greg Boothroyd and David Shone. Patkau Architects have made an international name for themselves through many awardwinning projects on various scales, from private homes to large public facilities. A notable project was a series of cottages at the site of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania. Current work includes an art complex for the University of Manitoba, the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, as well as various residential projects. “As the circumstances of the work change, our interests expand,” the architects write about their work. And: “We refuse singular definitions of architecture: as art, as technology, as social service, as environmental agent, as political statement. We embrace all these definitions, together, as part of the rich, complex and vital discipline that we believe architecture to be.”


Section 1:500


First floor


Horizontal Section 1:20


Vertical Section 1:20



Tula House


Quadra Island


Patkau Architects, Vancouver, Canada


James Dow, Edmonton, Canada


Building period
2007 – 2017


General contractor
J. Toelle Construction Ltd., Quathiaski Cove


Façade construction
J. Toelle Construction Ltd., Quathiaski Cove


Swisspearl products
SWISSPEARL 8mm CARAT Black Opal 7025

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