True North

True North is a charming residential dwelling in Ontario, Canada. Designed by Canada-based architecture firm Alain Carle Architecte, True North responds to an interesting site condition with a modern design that cleverly balances form and function.

Located on one of the islands formed by the creation of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, True North is unique in that its site is a man-made environment. The Saint Lawrence Seaway widened the river to provide access for cargo ships, and in the process of construction the river was altered, reshaping shores and relocating several nearby villages.

Faced with the task of designing on an artificial environment, Alain Carle Architecte asked themselves an uncommon question to the architecture world:

What would be a respectable approach to context, when all nature components around are actually fabricated?

Alain Carle’s solution was to turn away from aligning the form of the structure to the landscape or streetscape. Instead, the design of the home follows the north cardinal axis to create a logical arrangement of rooms based on functionality. A series of rooms connected by spanning corridors and courtyards, True North features a light stone exterior with a large amount of dark metal. Accentuated by the soft snowy surroundings, the structure feels grounded and dramatic.

The interior however, is warm and inviting: a perfect balance of wood, metal, and polished concrete. Skylights in key locations wash the interior in a soft, illuminating light. We particularly admire the skylight above the dining room. Elevated on a wooden platform, the dining table sits directly under skylight, while the dining chairs face outwards towards planes of floor to ceiling glass. It is an artistic composition in the home, and executed beautifully.

The courtyards serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose. As True North is situated on an island with heavy winds, the courtyards provide an extra layer of protection for the house while giving the residents insulated spaces to enjoy the outdoors. But function aside, they are stunning. The joy of a perfectly square courtyard is unparalleled. Surrounded by the house on all sides, glass walls providing glimpses in and out, the courtyards add tremendous design value to the home. A tree here, some soft grass there, and the space becomes a mini natural paradise available all year long.

True North is an interesting study of the relationship between architectural structure and landscape, or rather, the lack of natural landscape. It’s a lovely study in design, and one that is sure to become ever more relevant as our landscape changes with the work of humans.