The Temple is the House: A Sacred Cedar Home

Finely crafted with solid cedar timbers, this retreat on British Columbia's Gambier Island proves that building a good home is a sacred act.

| July/August 2008

  • The master bathroom is designed so that each part--water closet, shower and lavatory--has some privacy.
    Michael Shopenn
  • "Authentic architecture requires oneness with the site, the client, the materials and the cosmic energy dance," says architect Henry Yorke Mann.
    Michael Shopenn
  • Steve Ladner of Quantum Construction worked with two finish carpenters to frame the living room's mandala ceiling.
    Michael Shopenn
  • Architect Henry Yorke Mann, left, and builder Kirk Stockner of Quantum Construction worked together to create Bruce's retreat.
    Michael Shopenn
  • The master bedroom is tucked upstairs, with a fireplace and an awe-inspiring view of the bay.
    Michael Shopenn
  • The living room design is based on a mandala--a series of concentric geometric figures that make a sacred space--with an intricate floor pattern that's reflected in the ceiling.
    Michael Shopenn
  • The home's primary heat source is a clean-burning masonry stove; when fired in the morning, it holds and releases heat throughout the day.
    Michael Shopenn
  • The home's many windows and skylights allow sunlight to pour inside, keeping the home airy and light and helping to reduce winter heating bills.
    Michael Shopenn
  • A glazed roof opening throws early morning sunlight into the west-facing kitchen, which opens to the southeast-facing dining room. Mann designed the round door, which was beautifully executed by metalworker Thor Sunde of nearby Vancouver.
    Michael Shopenn
  • Bruce, Stockner and Mann picked out the post for the stairway in nearby Squamish and towed it to Gambier Island using a small boat.
    Michael Shopenn
  • The house nestles into the trees on Gambier Island. "It is intrinsically now a part of the site, such that it's difficult to think of the site without the home or the home without the site," says architect Henry Yorke Mann.
    Michael Shopenn
  • Mann designed the front door to be like a cave entrance. To enter, visitors must bow slightly, a simple act that emphasizes the home's spiritual presence and permanence.
    Michael Shopenn

Building a house is a journey. It requires—and builds—stamina, patience and vision. It’s not for the faint of heart, and many who embark on it find themselves, at some point, questioning their motivation.

Building a house designed by architect Henry Yorke Mann takes the journey to another level. Mann’s homes are built with solid wood timbers and complex joinery; the solidity shows itself in massive beams and exposed structures. Building one of Mann’s houses is a warrior’s journey—a rich and sometimes wrenching adventure that leads to spiritual, physical and emotional growth.

Bruce Ramus, a creative director who travels extensively, and his then-wife, Lynne Ozone, asked Mann to design a home on Gambier Island, off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, where they could escape the pressure of their busy lives. “When I was in Kyoto, I saw how many significant temples use large-scale elements in building,” Bruce says. “I knew it worked there, but I was unsure if it would also work in a house. Henry said there was no reason a temple couldn’t be a residence.”

Bruce and Lynne found a heavily wooded site overlooking Bowen Island and Horseshoe Bay, accessible only by water taxi. “I wanted to build something that meant something to the site, to the heritage of the land,” Bruce says. “I’m very much influenced by native architecture, and I wanted something that resonated with Western Canada.”

Built like fine furniture

The son and grandson of master builders, Mann has been practicing his unique brand of sacred architecture since 1962. He brings to his designs a reverence for his clients’ practical and spiritual needs, as well as for the site. “It is not so much a matter of design,” he says, “but also how well you understand the sun, the rain, the moon and gravity—as well as the sum of all these interrelations.”

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