Canadian studio YH2 has taken the notion of openness to the extreme in this small wooden cabin, which features stairs without walls and elevated areas without protective railings.
Called La Colombière, or the Dovery, the dwelling is situated within a forest in Sutton, a mountain village and artist enclave about 110 kilometres southeast of Montreal.
The modest building was used as a storage shed by its first owner, a lumberman, and was then converted into a small cabin by its second.
The latest owner wanted to continue using it as wilderness retreat, but desired more space. In response, YH2 retained the original footprint while adding a sculptural upper volume with a gabled roof.
"This new phase was inspired by the natural growth of trees," said the Montreal studio, which was started in 1994 by architects Marie-Claude Hamelin and Loukas Yiacouvakis.
"The link of the tree/house to the soil remains the same while growing vertically and developing an aerial volume reminiscent of tree canopies."
Preserving the landscape was a central concern for the team, which was able to complete the project without using heavy machinery or felling any trees.
Dark cedar cladding mimics the bark of the tall conifers that surround the three-storey cabin. The building itself is meant to evoke a bird's nest.
"La Colombière is a refuge perched in the forest, reminding us of bird huts," said the firm.
The architects created a "vertiginous" interior atmosphere, with rooms painted white and a wall-less stairway that zig-zags up through the cottage.
Large windows bring ample natural light into the compact yet airy space.
On the ground floor, the firm retained the materials and exposed structure that were created by the second owner.
This level features a simple room punctuated with a black wood-burning stove. A sliding glass door leads to a quaint yard and the verdant forest beyond.
In the upper portion, rooms are oriented around the stairwell, which is bathed in soft natural light. "Each room opens into a vast vertical shaft punctured by an ultra-light stairwell, an aerial structure," the firm said.
The second storey is traversed by a wooden bridge, which has no railing and overlooks the living area below.
On the very top floor, the team created an exterior terrace that also has no railing, providing an unobstructed view of the tree canopies. Lined with benches, the diamond-shaped alcove acts as a "white perch from where one can admire the surroundings".
Other Quebec projects by YH2 include a tall holiday home for a sculptor that is clad in red cedar and blackened pine.