Downs House II inspires West Coast Modern campaign in Vancouver

Downs House II, currently on the market in Vancouver, inspires a West Coast Modern campaign to save the modernist landmark

downs house II timber clad exterior
(Image credit: the white space co.)

The fate of a West Coast modernist architecture classic, Downs House II, hangs in the balance, as the structure perches on a cliffside overlooking West Vancouver’s Garrow Bay.

The second home of the late, great Vancouver architect Barry Downs, it is now up for sale but unlike many of his other residential designs, is not protected by West Vancouver’s heritage register. In a competitive real estate market, this means the house at 6664 Marine Drive – only 1,400 sq ft on a 22,000 sq ft lot – is in imminent danger of demolition.

downs house II seen from the water perched on a cliff

(Image credit: the white space co.)

Downs House II: a Vancouver modernist gem

In a rare move, the realtor who listed the 1979-built Downs home at $4,598,000 has issued an urgent plea for an archiphile with a preservationist bent to buy it.

'The survival rate of homes like these is very bleak,' says Trent Rodney, co-founder at West Coast Modern. 'Unless we are able to find a buyer who appreciates the architectural significance of this home more than the redevelopment value of the land, it is doomed to join the long list of west coast modern homes that have been lost to history.'

downs house II living space looking out

(Image credit: the white space co.)

According to Rodney, an average of two West Coast modern homes are torn down every year. In his estimation, only 256 of the 1,100 homes built during the height of West Coast midcentury modernism remain standing today.

downs house II interior looking out

(Image credit: the white space co.)

Indeed, the ghost of Arthur Mudry’s 1965 Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Beaton House, demolished in 2018, lurks nearby as a tragic reminder of what can happen when indifference and price-per-square-footage market value collide. Ditto for the Graham House – a residential masterpiece designed by Downs’ contemporary Arthur Erickson in 1962 – which was demolished not far from here in 2007.

downs house II timber clad interior

(Image credit: the white space co.)

But there’s still time to save the Downs House II – a place that as its architect did – exudes modesty and a strong sense of place. The small footprint home on a half-acre waterfront lot, surrounded by trees and designed as a series of carefully orchestrated cross-axes that draw in mesmeric views of Howe Sound, embraces rather than upstages its stunning natural environment. The highlight of the two-bedroom home is a sunken living room that appears to slip seamlessly into the sea. 

downs house II dining space interior

(Image credit: the white space co.)

As Downs, who passed away in 2022, wrote in 1980 (Wood World Mag, Vol 8, 1980): 'Our primary aim was to design a house subservient to and in harmony with its magnificent setting. A bold site often requires bold forms, but in this case the building mass was fractured and stepped to conform with the rock benches and slopes. Our needs are pretty modest, and I somehow wanted the house to have a modest quality rather than compete with or dominate its site.'

downs house II interior

(Image credit: the white space co.)

In many ways Downs used this house as a testing ground for his designs that form part of Vancouver’s civic architecture – from Canada Place to Yaletown. The preservation of his home will serve as a test of the city’s architectural mettle. 

downs house II view from the sea

(Image credit: the white space co.)