Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple
Architects is perched over a rocky outcrop

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This boxy wooden house by Canadian studio MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects extends over the edge of a rocky outcrop on the Atlantic coastline of Nova Scotia (+ slideshow).

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

Only a small section of the house makes contact with the ground, as most of its body projects over the edge of the cliff towards the waterfront, supported underneath by a criss-crossing arrangement of steel I-beams.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects designed Cliff House as a weekend getaway. It is intended to "heighten the experience of dwelling in landscape" by introducing a feeling of vertigo to its residents.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

"On approaching the cabin from the land, one is presented with a calm wood box with its understated landscaping, firmly planted on the ground, in contrast with the subsequent dramatic interior experience of flying off cliff," said the architects.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

Built to a tight budget, the building comprises a simple robust structure made up of steel trusses and timber portal frames, which are left exposed throughout the interior to avoid a buildup of condensation.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

The architects explained: "In Atlantic Canada we have a cool, labile climate, characterised by constant wet/dry, freeze/thaw cycles, resulting in a very high weathering rate for buildings. Over the centuries we have developed an elegant, economical light-weight wood building tradition in response to our challenging climate."

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

The main space of the house is a double-height living and dining room with windows on three sides and a wood-burning stove. A bathroom sits behind, with a mezzanine bedroom located above it.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

The entrance is at the end of the building, alongside a south-facing deck looking out over the cliff edge.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

Photography is by Greg Richardson.

Read on for a project description from MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple:


Cliff House

Landscape

This modest project is first in the series of projects to be built on a large (455 acre) property on Nova Scotia Atlantic Coast. It acts as a didactic instrument intended to heighten the experience of 'dwelling' in landscape. A pure, austere wood box is precariously perched off the bedrock cliff, 'teaching' about the nature of its landscape through creating a sense of vertigo while floating above the sea. This strategy features the building's fifth elevation - its 'belly'.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

On approaching the cabin from the land, one is presented with a calm wood box with its understated landscaping, firmly planted on the ground, in contrast with the subsequent dramatic interior experience of flying off cliff.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

Program

This efficient, 960 sq. ft. cabin functions as a rustic retreat. It is intended as an affordable, high amenity prototype-on-a-pedestal. Its 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 optimises passive solar gains and views, both out to sea and along the coastline.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

Building

The project's rich spatial experience and dramatic landscape strategy is contrasted by its material frugality. This is a modest project with an extremely low budget. A galvanised superstructure anchors it 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. 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 cedar shiplap siding on a ventilated rain screen creates an abstract modern effect.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face

In Atlantic Canada we have a cool, labile climate, characterised by constant wet/dry, freeze/thaw cycles, resulting in a very high weathering rate for buildings. Over the centuries we have developed an elegant, economical light-weight wood building tradition in response to our challenging climate.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face
Ground floor plan

The light timber frame has also become the dominant domestic construction system in North America. Despite its widespread use, its inherent high level of environmental sustainability, its affordability, and its subtle refined aesthetic, architects have been reluctant to embrace it. The research of our practice, however, builds upon and extends this often understated, everyday language of construction, often through modest projects like Cliff House.

Cliff House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is perched over a sheer rock face
First floor plan
  • jeremy

    Nice refined project. ‘Sheer rock face’ is perhaps a little generous? Tho it does sound much more dangerous than ‘uneven rocky ground’.

    • http://www.dezeen.com/ Dezeen Magazine

      Fair point. We’ve toned it down a bit now!

  • Rui Pedro

    Nice project but allow me to question why the house has to be “hung”? Isn’t the view the same 3 meters behind? I can’t understand what you get by having the house in the “air”, not to mention the two pillars that sustain her.

  • Sergei Alexander Aoki

    Perhaps because the terrain slope is cheaper.

  • yann

    Not any integration of the house in the land. Typical case of a stupid architect who has no interest and no comprehension, no humility in front of the place he’s acting.

    • PC

      Perhaps you should read a bit on Brian Mackay Lyons before making such a comment.

  • Concerned Citizen

    It begs to cantilever further out past the supports.

    • ringo star

      Is nobody else curious as to why they need a two metre deep truss to span four metres?

      • Hamish

        I’d imagine it’s to provide lateral stability rather than span.

      • Rui Pedro

        I still believe this is a complete waste of structure because of that nonsense balance. Why the hell do they need it?

  • amsam

    What, no swing?