Much like tiny flowers that sprout between cracks in the asphalt or tuckamore trees that manage to grow on the most windswept coastal landscapes, human beings have historically managed to thrive in climates and topographies that would seem, at first glance, uninhabitable. Case in point: cliff dwellings. Around the world, in places where flat lands were unavailable, homes and whole communities were established vertically. In Guyaju, China and Vardzia, Georgia, ancient cliff dwellings have become popular, vertigo-inducing tourist destinations; closer to home, Mesa Verde in Colorado houses the well-preserved remains of the ancient Anasazi people’s dwellings, built into the rock overhangs of canyon walls.
Closer to home still, we’re loving one cliff dwelling fit for the 21st century.
Located near Montreal, this home, dubbed “Dans l’Escarpement” (the name evoking, of course, its shocking vantage point) is situated on a piece of land pertaining to a century-old estate. While on the whole the estate was coveted for its beautiful landscapes and clear lakes, this one pocket of land was never developed owing to its steep cliff. Treacherous, yes, but the vertical drop also means breathtaking, unrivalled views of the surrounding forest and waters below. With strategic planning and some sheer architectural ingenuity, the potential of this land was just waiting to be realized.
The clients commissioned yH2, a Montreal-based firm for whom architecture is “the art of place-making.” The brief: a house that would blend into the hillside and cause little disruption to the surrounding nature.
yH2 answered with a house designed around two concrete “boxes” to maintain a small footprint. The first box is vertical while the second is horizontal, and both are anchored to a completely glassed-in volume.
The vertical box features the main entrance and the owners’ private suite on the third of three floors. On the second floor, one will find the kitchen and dining area, which is connected to a small office and library. On the first floor, a sauna and spa facility offer a slice of luxury amid the natural surroundings.
The horizontal box, a single story-volume, connects to this spa area from the exterior and provides access to the first floor. The intermediate level is, according to the firm, the “true heart of the house,” with its glass walls providing views of the surrounding flora and fauna. The living area is comprised of both an interior and exterior space, beginning indoors and expanding out to the terrace, which is built directly on the roof of the guest suite.
According to the firm, mahogany is the prevailing interior material, “selected for its enduring qualities and for its rich hues.” It’s an effective choice; the warm, dark wood of the living and dining area—used in liberal measure in the floors, ceilings, beams, window frames, and kitchen cabinets—evokes the trees beyond the windows.
This rich colour palette was further established through the use of Corten steel in the fireplace and on the exterior sheathing. Also chosen for the exterior, and used extensively, was exposed concrete; “Symbolically,” says the firm, “it refers to the huge boulders which are characteristic of the territory.”
Looking at aerial footage of the house, soaring over the steep terrain, the question remains: how exactly does one access a cliffside dwelling? (Without, you know, a helipad?)
According to the firm, access to the house was achieved via a metallic gangway, which stretches from a concrete garage near the parking area. “As one progresses on the light bridge structure, particularly on a misty day, there is a sensation of going towards a tree house floating in mid-air.”
Click through the gallery above to view the rich-hued interiors and strategic engineering of this contemporary cliffside dwelling.
Photos via v2com
Photographer: Maxime Brouillet