BY DAVID LENNAM | PHOTOS BY EMA PETERSON
The challenge was a lesson in geometry — finding a way to build on a triangular, mid-block lot that had sat vacant for 65 years. What Aryze ended up accomplishing was much more.
The Victoria developer not only created a bold, visionary design that would share space in the Oaklands neighbourhood without overwhelming other nearby homes, but also addressed the most pressing need of the city’s housing market — that vital missing middle.
Quick refresher: the City of Victoria’s Missing Middle Housing Initiative refers to adding more townhouses and houseplexes to diversify housing choices between apartment and single-family home in an effort to provide housing for younger families, in particular.
“We wanted to create a landmark project,” says Aryze’s principal and general manager Ryan Goodman, who feels the bold, brutalist-style design excites and satisfies and “as the years go by will … become a prominent part of that neighbourhood’s story.”
Pearl Block comprises six, three-bedroom townhomes presented in a “stepped” form, providing each of the units with an outlook onto the street.
The visually striking soft-density project, created primarily for young families, offers living spaces of between 1,100 and 1,288 square feet, placed like a piece from the game Tetris into an irregular 12,000-square-foot lot.
The three-storey layout of each townhome, plus ample rooftop deck, is designed for both privacy and what urbanist Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961) referred to as “eyes upon the street.” Buildings must be oriented to the street and “cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.”
Goodman says Jacobs was key to Pearl Block.
“We wanted everyone to feel like they had presence.”
Typical townhouse projects, he explains, are like a galley where you enter down a central driveway toward which all the front doors face towards.
“With this one, everyone has a front door that faces the road with a huge glass door and window beside it.”
The entrance is prominent but discreet. Large windows on the second floor face Shelbourne Street through the trees. None of the windows face any of the other units. A wing wall feature functions like horse blinders, allowing the residents unobstructed views without neighbours looking in.
“Everybody’s outlook is very private, but we wanted to create presence rather than have everyone feeling tucked away,” says Goodman.
At the ground level is a garage and a concrete-floored foyer with overhang, creating a covered courtyard. The second level is open plan, with a living and dining area, kitchen, two-piece bath and south-facing balcony. Level three is three bedrooms and a full ensuite. And the roof is an utterly private 443-square-foot deck surrounded by five-foot parapets — like having a sky-high backyard.
The unique but stripped-down esthetic features a deeply textured stucco exterior in a looming concrete grey, punctuated by darker panels around a recessed ground floor that helps minimize the building’s massing.
Form and Function
Michael and Aiko, parents of a toddler, chose Pearl Block when they moved from Toronto in 2021.
“It was a new build,” says Michael, a product design manager at a software company. “It was turnkey. No renovation, start fresh. And everything was clean and designed just exactly how we would design it.”
He says the building’s esthetic lined up with his own: clean lines, honest material usage, things that get the job done simply and beautifully.
“Balance between form and function, and space to add your own personality to it.”
The interior, fashioned with what Goodman calls an intentionally modest palette, features exposed structural elements — a steel post in the living room, exposed plywood stair railings, raw concrete — along with white oak floors and the peaceful vibe of neutral tones and an astonishing lack of clutter.
“We were really intentional on the interior design,” notes Goodman, “keeping it minimalist and keeping everything tucked away.”
Completed in 2020, the project was recognized with a pair of design awards from the Architecture Foundation of B.C.
Goodman hopes Pearl Block will challenge the way people think about how lots are developed in older, established neighbourhoods.
“There’s so much happening right now in Victoria around missing middle housing, and this is a very bold example of what can be done. What we’re most proud of is the creativity and ability to create a landmark on a piece of land that was a deer pasture for so long.”
Developer: Aryze Developments
Architect: D’Arcy Jones Architects
Engineers: RJC Engineers (for structural and building envelope)
Interior Design: D’Arcy Jones Architects
Landscape: Biophilia Design Collective
Flooring: Island Floor Centre
Electrical: A. Slater Electric
Millwork: Coast Cabinets
Countertops: Colonial Countertops
Appliances: Coast Appliances
Mechanical and Plumbing Fixtures: Solid Plumbing & Gas