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Cliff House

Cliff House in Halifax which, true to its name, overhangs a bedrock cliff. The 960-square-foot cabin, designed by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, is simplistic and built of light timber, making it both affordable and sustainable. Because of its location, perched atop a cliff, the box-shaped wooden structure offers a stunning view of the sea.

Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-01-Greg-Richardson-759x504 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

Perched on the bedrock cliff, the pure and austere wood box “teaches” about the nature of its landscape through the creation of a sense of vertigo, floating above the sea. This strategy features the building’s fifth elevation–its belly. On approaching the cabin from land, one is presented with understated landscaping and a calm wood box firmly planted on the ground–in contrast to the subsequent dramatic interior experience of flying off the cliff.

Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-03-Greg-Richardson-759x506 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

Design Highlights:

  • This cabin functions as a rustic retreat. It is intended as an affordable, high amenity prototype-on-a-pedestal. Cliff House’s main level contains a great room with a north cabinet wall and a compact service core behind. The open loft is a sleeping perch.
  • A large, south-facing deck on the cliff edge allows the great room to flow outward. The cabin’s fenestration optimizes passive solar gains and views. A galvanized superstructure anchors the house to the cliff. A light steel endoskeleton forms the primary structure expressed on the interior. The envelope is a simple, conventional, taut-skinned platform-framed box.
Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-07-Greg-Richardson-759x506 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

  • The ‘outsulation’ strategy allows the conventional wood framing system to be expressed on the interior, avoiding the need for interior finishes and the problems typically associated with condensation in insulated wall cavities.
  • The large galvanized steel superstructure anchors it to the cliff, while the skeleton itself is made from light steel, clad in cedar shiplap. Believe it or not, this is affordable luxury, built with the express intention of being a second home. It’s a prototype that can be repeated as desired.
Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-08-Greg-Richardson-759x981 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

  • The main level contains a great room and in the open loft a cosy sleeping perch for windy nights. Such a dramatic setting wouldn’t be complete without a large south-facing deck to absorb the first rays of the sun and extend the living space out through the large windows.
  • This is a modest project with an extremely low budget. A galvanized superstructure anchors it to the cliff, while a light steel endoskeleton forms the primary structure expressed on the interior. The envelope is a simple and conventional taut-skinned platform-framed box.
Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-09-Greg-Richardson-799x1200 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

“This insightful reinterpretation of the archetypal cabin in the landscape was a clear standout project. Perfectly judged for its setting, it elevates plain vernacular form and ordinary materials into a potent mediation on the relationship between the man-made and nature. Its sober tectonic language resonates delightfully with the surrounding coastal landscape, and its haiku-like simplicity and exquisite modesty distills the notion of dwelling into a beautiful and memorable piece of architecture.” – Canadian Architect Magazine

Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-10-Greg-Richardson Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects:

This project is the first of a series of projects for a large 455 acre site on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast. This pure box in the landscape is precariously perched off a bedrock cliff to heighten one’s experience of the landscape through a sense of vertigo and a sense of floating on the sea. This strategy features the building’s fifth elevation – its ‘belly’.

Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-11-Greg-Richardson-759x506 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

This modest 960 square foot cabin functions as a rustic retreat. Its main level (16×44) contains a great room with a north cabinet wall, along with a service core. The open loft (16×16) is a sleeping perch. A large south-facing deck allows the interior stage to flow outward through the large windows.

Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-13-Greg-Richardson-759x505 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

This is a modest, affordable cabin that is intended as a repeatable prototype. A large, galvanized, steel superstructure anchors it to the cliff. A light steel endoskeleton forms the primary structure expressed on the interior. The envelope is a simple flat form framed box, which is clad in cedar shiplap.

Cliff-House-By-MacKay-Lyons-Sweetapple-Architects-17-Greg-Richardson-759x505 Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

© Greg Richardson

Project Data:

Project name: Cliff House
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Coordinates: n/a
Type:

  • Type By Characteristic: Cabin / Hut, Holiday House
  • Type By Site: Ocean House, Hill House
  • Type By Size: Small House – (51 sqm – 200 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Steel House

Structural Materials: Steel Frame
Site Area: 455-acre
Project Area: 960-sq.ft/86 sqm
Status: Completed
Completion Date: June 2011

Awards:

  • 2014 – AZURE Magazine’s Awards – People’s Choice Award – Category: Residential Architecture – Winner
  • 2013 – Architectural Record Awards – House of the Month – October
  • 2012 – Governor General’s Medal for Architecture Awards
  • 2011 – North American Wood Design Award – Canadian Wood Council – Honor Award
  • 2010 – Lieutenant Governor’s Design Awards – Citation

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects – 2188 Gottingen Street, Halifax, NS B3K 3B4, Canada
Architect In Charge: Brian MacKay-Lyons, Talbot Sweetapple
Project Team: Brian MacKay-Lyons, Talbot Sweetapple, Kevin Reid, Melanie Hayne, Sawa Rostkowska
Project Architect: Kevin Reid
Engineer: Campbell Comeau Engineering Limited
Geotechnical: Terrain Group Incorporated
General contractor: Gordon MacLean
Text Description: © Courtesy of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Canadian Architect Magazine, North American Wood Design Award
Images: © MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Greg Richardson

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Cliff House / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
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