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The Weather Network
Jun. 22, 2021 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Arch-i-text: A masterwork
Behind this wall lies mastery. (Brian Marshall)

I regret never having the opportunity to meet the renowned Niagara architect Don Chapman.

We had some tentative plans to do so in the spring, but the COVID lockdown denied that opportunity. Now, alas, he has passed and I shall never have the chance to know him except through the work he left behind.

I have often admired from afar the home he designed and built for his family. In the past, I had commented several times to his son that I’d love to get a closer look and recently we both had the time in our schedules to walk around the property.

Nestled down into the landscape overlooking the Niagara River, this is a house that defies classification. One can see influences from the International style, which Chapman would have been strongly exposed to in his university days in Manitoba, but there is also a strong flavour of the West Coast Organic tradition and hints of heritage styling with unique touches born of the architect’s own creativity.

This is a house of textures wherein a solid expanse of white brick masonry is juxtaposed against natural rough-sawn shou sugi ban timber elements and flawless sheets of huge float glass windows. It is a house of modules as if a tiny village was seamlessly joined by glass and timber colonnades. And it is a house of courtyards, each with its own flavour but all invariably impressing one with a feeling of zen normally associated with meditative Japanese gardens.

At roughly 6,000 square feet, largely spread across a single storey, it is hard to imagine that the house does not sprawl across the landscape, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, it is so well integrated with its setting it seems to have grown rather than been built. As one walks around each corner of the home (and there are many) there is a different treat in store. Here an expanse of vertical wood cladding that at first appears random but then reveals itself as a brilliant repetition of pattern that delights the eye. Next, a beautiful glimpse of the Niagara River perfectly framed by two corners of masonry and eaves of the high-pitched roofs.

In the life of every talented architect there are a few buildings that may be called his masterwork. I don’t know if Don Chapman felt that way about his house, but I can tell you that I certainly do.