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Reconsidering the Binning House Weder, Adele Margot

Abstract

The 1941 Binning House in West Vancouver has long been hailed as a pioneer of Modernism in domestic Canadian architecture, and an inspiration for much of the West Coast Architecture that followed. Although it is usually described as product of Corbusian rationalism and a paradigm of low-cost dwelling, in fact it is neither. Rather, it is a composite of several competing strains of Modernism and aesthetic values prevalent in London during the year (1938-39) in which Binning resided there to study fine art. The Binning House is often misread as an austerely functionalist plan with an orthogonal layout, but a closer observation and actual measurement of wall and window angles reveals that Binning actually inflected the orthogonal, generating a splayed geometric layout with obtuse and acute angles in several corners, trapezoidal forms in the built-in furniture and studio clerestory window, and a dynamic sense of visual expansion and contraction. Binning's study with Henry Moore was evidently tremendously influential in this regard, as Moore avoided the machine-like aesthetic of the orthogonal and instead imbued his art with oblique, irregular and rounded lines. The oblique motif also manifests in Binning's own drawings of this time. Also empathetic to this approach was Berthold Lubetkin, whose Whipsnade Bungalow near London defied the doctrines of orthogonal functionalism. Binning viewed plans and photos of Whipsnade and other emblems of early European modernism at a seminal 1939 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibition synthesized many of the ideas and forms that Binning had been exposed to in London and seems to have served as a catalyst for the house plan he was about to compose. In converging these various strains of early Modernism, Binning has transcended the dogma of architectural discourse and rendered it meaningful for a local, individual context.

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