An Architecture Firm Packs Serious Style Into A Skinny Footprint

NatureHumaine turned the close quarters of a Montreal street into a collaborative space.

Architects, or the famous ones at least, have a reputation for neglecting the needs of their clients. And there are many, many leaky roofs in the history of the practice that give credence to the claim.


But Montreal-based architectural office NatureHumaine has gone so far in the client-accommodation direction that they’ve even credited him–a handyman who’s always dreamed of building his own home–as a collaborator. He’s cited for his contribution to the design and construction of the Stacked House, a four-story townhouse tucked away on Rue St. Christophe in Montreal’s dense Plateau neighborhood.

The house makes ingenious use of the irregular site conditions. The constraints of the small site–a skinny swatch of land between houses–meant a vertical orientation. The interior spaces are centered around an open-air courtyard that brings in much-needed light, and the rooms themselves are pieced together in interlocking ways to optimize the narrow footprint.

When the architects delivered their design, the client decided that he’d be his own best choice to construct the house. He took control over the project, eventually completing it at costs 35% less than typical estimates. He also improvised certain features of the design, including inserting built-in furniture in the living room and elsewhere, and produced the handrails in the courtyard.

The Stacked House is an architectural exception in the tiny St. Christophe corridor, where, says NatureHumaine principal Stéphane Rasselet, planning has been “ambiguous.” One half of the street–really an alleyway–is lined with narrow brick townhomes, slapdash extensions, and dilapidated sheds. Opposite are small backyards that actually belong to houses with entrances one block north.

On this unusual street, NatureHumaine’s most collaborative client actually moved from one end to the other. “He owned a centennial house with a large backyard leading onto St. Christophe,” Rasselet explains, “and decided to sell the house and build a new one in what used to be his backyard.” This musical chair-like swapping was just one of the project’s playful aspects that, coupled with the client’s winning personality, won the team over. Swoon, architects can play nice.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.