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Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the April 26, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Modernist icon a testament to geometry

by Ben Bulmer

For a property that is over 60 years old, there is absolutely nothing dated about the house built by James W. Strutt in Aylmer.

Sitting high on the Eardley Escarpment at 1220 Chemin de la Montagne, the 'Strutt House', as it's now called, is on a parcel of land just a stone's throw from the border of Chelsea nestled high among the trees of the Gatineau Park.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Built in 1956 and designed by iconic Canadian Architect James Strutt, the Strutt House sits on top of the Eardly Escarpment in Alymer. Ben Bulmer photo.

Built in 1956 by iconic Canadian architect James Strutt, the building faced demolition after being expropriated by the National Capital Commission in 2010, but is now on its way to being restored and will be open to the public this year, showcasing its modernist heritage.

When James Strutt died in 2008, his daughter, Lesley Strutt, moved back into the house where she'd grown-up. The Strutt Foundation was set up that year to educate people about modernist architecture and officially became a not-forprofit in 2013.

Built in just six weeks at a cost of $15,000 - still only $140,000 in 2017 terms - the property was the first in Canada, and possibly even the world, to use a wooden hyperbolic paraboloid roof. Architect Titania Truesdale, director of the Strutt Foundation, said that as much as that sounds complicated, it's the simplicity of Strutt's design that makes it what it is.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The house circa late 1960. Photo courtesy Titania Truesdale.

"He wanted to prove you could do something different using less material, but have a better structure at a lower price than the typical four square house," said Truesdale. "It didn't meet code of the day and it still doesn't...it's so far outside the norm." Truesdale said the house is a testament to James Strutt's innate understanding of structure and geometry

The 1,600-square-foot, threebedroom house almost floats over the Eardley Escarpment, offering spectacular views of the Gatineau Park, and is bathed in light because of its wall-to-ceiling glass windows. The architect was well known for entertaining and his guests included the likes of Pierre Trudeau and American architect Buckminster Fuller - and it's not hard to imagine the late Trudeau sipping a martini while looking out onto the landscape.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The house as its stands today, structurally sound but in need of $300,000 to restore it to its former glory. Ben Bulmer photo.

Lesley Strutt said growing up in the house was a "magical" experience. "We knew that we were living in an unusual place...we lived on the edge of a wild forest." Strutt, who now lives in Merrickville, said receiving the expropriation notice in 2010 put her through a range of emotions from panic to denial: "I just kept thinking, 'what would the house want?'." But now she said she's happy with the way it has turned out. The NCC is committed to preserving the house and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada recognized the house in 2014; it also received $50,000 from the Getty Foundation, and was honoured as an icon of modernist design in 2015.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Standard today, but it 1956 a built in stove top was very unique. The silver panel on the right of the picture is built in bender base. Ben Bulmer photo.

The 'mid-century modern' property needs around $300,000 to bring it back to its former glory, but Truesdale said that structurally the house is very solid - most of the deterioration took place in the three years the house was empty following the NCC expropriation in 2010. The foundation is using the property for workshops for architecture and design students from Carleton University and Algonquin College.

Anyone wanting to visit the house can do so by booking a visit from now till Nov. 30 2017. From May 1 to Oct. 31, The Gatineau Park Visitor Centre will be hosting a special exhibition entitled 'Conserving an Icon: The Strutt House', as well as a student exhibition of seminal modernist residences from across Canada. To arrange a visit, go to: www.struttfoundation.ca. For information about the NCC exhibit, go to: www.nccccn.gc.ca.


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