House on Fox Lake

Williamson Chong Architects

December 15, 2014
ARCHITECT Williamson Chong Architects
LOCATION Huntsville, Ontario

By using natural materials and reinterpreting the traditional forms of the Hanok, the architects created a four-season home that evokes the client’s cultural history while contributing to the evolution of Canada’s regional modern architectural language.

Hanok is a traditional Korean house type hundreds of years old. Customarily located with a mountain in back, facing north towards the water, each Hanok is built according to regional environments such as distance and direction of wind, water, land and mountains. The raw materials used in Hanok construction, such as soil, timber and rock, are all natural and recyclable. The formal planning and structural elements are also environmentally sound. Hanoks have an evolved post-and-beam framework that sits on a stylobate at the bottom, with stereotomic stone-block construction and a specific type of a curved tiled roof called Giwa—the edges of which can be adjusted to control the amount of sunlight that enters the house.

A unique feature of traditional houses was their special design for cooling the interior in summer and heating in winter. Since Korea has hot summers and cold winters, the Ondol—underfloor heating using the direct heat transfer from wood smoke to thick masonry or stone, and Daecheong—a cool shaded hall with a wooden floor, were devised to help Koreans survive the frigid winters and to block sunlight during summer. These primitive types of heating and air-conditioning were so effective that they are still in use in many homes today. These elements are the raw materials of the House on Fox Lake.

Fox Lake is one of Muskoka’s many small lakes. The lands around it saw their first development as homesteads, but the hills around the lake were not particularly suited to farming and by the early 1900s, many of the homesteads were abandoned. Timber became the primary interest in the area, with the Buck-Fox-Vernon corridor being a transportation route for logs and bark. Slowly, through the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, Fox Lake became a recreational site, with a number of small summer cottages developing on the east and west sides.

The ideal site for this modern Hanok is on a ridge formed by granite outcroppings that will make a natural ledge to approach from above, which will then descend down one storey to the lakeside dropoff. It creates a modest upper-level approach and a nestled-in lower level, recreating the Hanok section of open upper levels rooted by a stone base.

The development of the roof line enhances the illumination of the central room while catching lakeside breezes and views. The massing concept for the house is a stacked double courtyard, in which an upper-level wood-clad “light court” is nested atop a lower-level living room that is open to the lake yet enclosed by the hovering wood screen above.

The upper-level approach is toward a one-storey volume, which then drops into a lower-level space which has a widened vista to the lake below. The roof is based on the Hanok’s roof, which traditionally sloped to the interior for drainage to an internal courtyard. The realities of heavy snow and site drainage forced the reconsideration and inverted flipping of the roof volume in this contemporary iteration.

Typically, the roof of the Hanok was highly figural, formed a deep eave for shade, and was materially quite varied depending on the class of the owner—with materials ranging from clay tile to wood shingles. The development of the roof form in this house focused on capturing daylight at optimum angles and controlling runoff while developing a prismatic aperture for the skylight and buildable angles for the prefabricated roof trusses.

  • CLIENT Withheld
  • ARCHITECT TEAM Donald Chong, Shane Williamson, Betsy Williamson, Chris Routley, Dimitra Papantonis, Paul Harrison, Lucas Boyd
  • STRUCTURAL Blackwell Engineering
  • MECHANICAL YMSD
  • CONTRACTOR Derek Nicholson Incorporated
  • AREA 3,425 ft²
  • BUDGET Withheld
  • COMPLETION Fall 2015

Jury Comments

EG: A surprising and refreshing house that takes as a starting point a foreign cultural reference, then adapts it to the Canadian landscape and context with a little abstraction. I appreciate the in-between spaces that this house provides.
MG: The clarity from concept to execution was just outstanding. We hope to see more projects that bring a unique cultural perspective that’s important to Canadian identity and diversity, and that build on those traditions in really provocative ways.
TS: This is an elegant project that is very well resolved formally and intellectually. The resulting design illustrates a clear abstraction and translation of the cultural and historic characteristics of its client.