Little [Modernist] Boxes
If you’re near the Mayfair Mall, it’s worth making a side trip to the distinctive Topaz Heights neighbourhood, just east of Blanshard Street and north of Finlayson. Topaz Heights was the city’s first post-WWII housing project, created to provide homes for returning vets. But what makes it truly curious is that its houses, built in 1947 and 1948, were designed according to the principles of West Coast modernism.
On Alder Street, for example, are a dozen variations of the wooden shed-roofed cube pictured above left. Cute, eh? Some owners have really embraced and enhanced the look of these houses, but others don’t get it at all (e.g. adding horizontally aligned vinyl siding), or have let the buildings rot, which hardly makes them appear "modern." At least it's nice to see that many of them are still standing, though they’re only 700 square feet in size.
To learn more about Topaz Heights, look for the new book Victoria Modern: An Introduction, which points out other lesser-known modernist residences, such as the rectilinear Logan Mayhew house at 3515 Beach Drive, and the oh-so-euro Stelck houses at 1214, 1218, and 1221 Old Esquimalt Road. (The book also celebrates the fact that modernism determined the open, geometric 1960s layouts of Centennial Square and the UVic campus, but ignores their cold disfunctionality as public spaces. Modernism produced good-looking design; whether it really worked is another matter altogether.) If you’re a fan, check out the Modern Movement site, or the Maltwood Gallery’s tribute to modern architecture in Victoria.