West Coast Contemporary

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West Coast Contempoary

Residential West Coast Contemporary Home



West Coast Contemporary designs are known for their large, geometric designs and use of heavy timber structure and wood surfaces, especially cedar, which is in abundance on the West Coast.

Notable architects of West Coast Contemporary design include; Arthur Erickson, Fred Hollingsworth and Barry Downs.

It should be noted the Modern and Contemporary architecture are not the same. Contemporary is present architecture. Meaning it is anything new right now, which makes it constantly changing. Modern architecture was popular in the 1950's and it is a defined style that isn't changing. [1]


Effects of logging, Powell River, BC

West coast contemporary is a fairly new architectural style therfore not much history has been recorded. It is believed that the designers of these structures wanted to use the natural beauty of the West Coast and shape it into a unique style.

Environmental awareness plays a role in the development of this style. Local materials are typically used (which is why the majority of these structures are on the West Coast), reducing transportation needs and therefore reducing exhaust emissions. The use of the material is also renewable, yet limited. There are only so many old growth forests remaining on the West coast, and even though we can re-plant the trees, for them to reach heavy timber status, it would take hundreds of years.

Feature and Use In Building Construction

Bedroom, note exposed heavy timer beams and large windows

West Coast Contemporary reflects classic cabin designs with a modern twist. The mixture of classic design and modern innovations depends on the designer. Some buildings are more modern, and some are more traditional. But natural raw appearances are always seen creating a very recognizable and original architectural style.

Some characteristics that occur in many West Coast Contemporary buildings include:

  • Large windows
  • Exposed Heavy Timber structure
  • Grand entrances
  • Wood finishes
  • Designs corresponding to the site
  • Stone fireplaces

Building Materials

Dining, note fire place, natural wood flooring and plank and bean ceiling

The most common wall types are light wood-framed stud walls. The wood used is SPF, meaning spruce pine fir. These types of wood are renewable on the West coast and take 10 to 15 years to grow. Despite that, the faster these trees grow, the weaker the lumber is because the wood is not as dense. The spacing of the wall studs are traditionally 16" on center. Recently, designers have moved up to 24" on center to reduce the amount of lumber used. Within the wall studs batt insulation is typically used although there are other ways to insulate. The insulation value required dictates the wall thickness.

Most West coat contemporary buildings use a lot of exposed heavy timer and wood finishes. Having wood on the exterior can be a challenge to maintain. Wood discolors and fades due to the natural elements such as sun and rain.

The exterior usually are done with wood siding and stonework features which creates a natural appearance. Some designs combine stucco and stonework to avoid the extra maintenance that comes with exterior wood finishes.

Interiors reflect the natural feeling of the exteriors. The ceilings in common areas are commonly vaulted and composed of wood plank, with exposed heavy timber beams. In more private areas, gypsum board is used on the ceilings as it is a cheaper alternative. The walls are usually gypsum board and painted a light neutral color to keep the interior looking clean and modern. The floors are typically hardwood or tile.

Examples of West Coast Contemporary Condominiums

Ivy 1265 Marine Drive, North Vancouver, BC

Ivy kitchen interior

Ivy is a mixed use building built in 2012. It has commercial storefronts on the bottom floor accompanied by 24 residential units. Amenities include a fitness studio, underground parking, storage lockers and bike storage.


  1. Relish Interiors

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