An architecturally distinct new housing development meets a gap in the neighbourhood — and the housing market.
BY KIM PEMBERTON
First-time homeowners Catherine Prowse and Cameron McNab may have different tastes in architecture, but, when it came to buying their home in Victoria, they both got what they wanted in a boutique condo project in James Bay.
The couple, who moved from Vancouver to Victoria in June, bought into a 12-unit condo project called Rotunda by Aryze Developments. The new development showcases the impact of improved housing density in the downtown core.
“I’m really into traditional places and my husband is all about modern, but this is the perfect combination for the two of us,” says Prowse.
Prowse says her husband got the contemporary style he prefers, with clean-lined cabinetry and no ornamentation in the living spaces, while the traditional exterior of the development satisfied her desire for a building with heritage appeal.
The building’s architecture is a combination of classic red brick that fits into the “old-world feel of James Bay,” says Prowse. The exterior also has a contemporary metal facing that suits her husband’s appreciation for modern design.
The building’s unique architectural style was designed by D’Arcy Jones Architects and features an open-air courtyard, oversized windows and bright, airy living spaces. Yet its shape is what sets it apart. Rotunda was designed with a stepped-back profile, featuring five storeys from the rear and four storeys at the front of the property. The staggered levels of the building make the most of its site, allowing the individual apartments to maximize views.
Prowse says, along with their desire to find a condo development with interesting architecture, the couple wanted to be close to downtown so they could walk to grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment and other amenities offered nearby. James Bay’s historic Legislature District is perfect for this, she says.
Rotunda was an infill project for the company — one that makes use of otherwise empty space — and its architecture was in keeping with the historic neighbourhood of James Bay, says Arzye Developments co-founder Luke Mari.
“As a company, most of what we do is infill housing for sustainability reasons,” he says. “Cities have to reduce climate change and greenhouse gasses. This building is compact, has great walkability for its residents and is probably one of the most sustainable buildings we’ve done.”
That sustainability comes from transforming a site that once had just one single residential home into a development that now provides housing for 12 families. While Aryze has produced many individual custom homes in the past, the company is primarily focussing on creating multi-family residences, Mari says. Rotunda is Aryze’s third multi-family building.
In January, the City of Victoria passed a housing initiative which puts more developments like Rotunda on the horizon. The initiative allows for improved density in areas commonly considered residential by allowing townhomes of up to six units to be built on any mid-block lot, and up to 12 units on corners, without rezoning. This “middle” housing currently accounts for just five per cent of new home construction in Victoria, with apartments, condos and detached houses making up the other 95 per cent.
When it comes to Rotunda, Mari says Jones was inspired by the late Vancouver architect Peter Cardew, who was highly regarded for his creative ways of designing spaces on deeply constrained sites. One of the design features Cardew often used in his residential work was including a courtyard, which is a central design feature of Rotunda. The building’s courtyard allows all of the units to benefit from a cross-breeze, which Prowse says was wonderful to have this past summer.
“When it was really hot, all we had to do was open the window and patio doors and it felt like a cool breeze was in the house. I thought it was a really smart design,” she says.
The couple bought their two-bedroom, two-bath condo in September 2021 and moved in shortly after completion. Prowse says, after living in a very small rental, they have appreciated the generous size of their new home, with more than 1,000 square feet in their unit.
Inside the couple’s open-concept space, engineered white oak wide-plank hardwood flooring offers a natural touch. The living space opens onto a patio, giving the room a spacious feel. The kitchen has integrated white wall cabinets for a clean, minimalist appearance, with oversized quartz countertops and backsplashes elevating the look. The Moffat refrigerator and Bosch wall oven add a touch of culinary luxury.
Prowse says the condo gives the couple everything they could want, from the ideal location and architectural style to the added bonus of feeling like they are living in a single-family house — a far cry from their previous living arrangement.
“We were basically living in a closet [before] and, with two adults working from home, it was interesting,” she says. “Here, we’ve got quite a bit more space. We don’t have to go into an elevator. We can just walk outside.”
Density by Design
Infills like Rotunda are one way to increase housing density in cities with high housing needs. The City of Victoria’s recently passed “Missing Middle Housing Initiative” allows houseplexes, corner townhouses and other dwellings alongside single-family homes in areas traditionally considered residential.
Here are four more ways developers in some cities increase density without relying on highrises.
1 Duplex, triplex and fourplex apartments
These buildings act as a middle ground between single-family living and highrises or midrises. These developments keep the scale of the areas and offer the feel of single-family living, complete with front doors, while doubling, tripling or quadrupling the density.
2 Townhomes and row homes
Townhomes create stacked density, often with units built against each other. These developments give homeowners a chance to maintain ownership over a unit on shared property. Row houses are typically lined up next to each other in rows, making strategic use of the land around them (rather than expansive lawns or alleyways), but offer ownership over both structure and land.
3 Community houses
Transforming old mansions and large single-family homes into condos preserves the heritage fabric of a city, rather than leaving these buildings to be torn down. This style of development allows for increased housing with the option of a primary owner renting or selling.
4 Accessory Dwelling Units
These units, termed ADUs, are found as second homes in the yard of a single-family house. Often heralded as garden or in-law suites, these livable structures give opportunities for tiny house fans to thrive and can double the density of a lot without requiring heavy renovations or teardowns.