stepping down the hill 10/2013

Getting the most of your site while respecting the land



No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill.

Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.

Frank Lloyd Wright



In keeping with their careers in the software industry, our clients created a detailed web site for the house they wished to build. Through images and text it highlighted the desire for a home connected to the outdoors, including a path from the back door to walking trails on the adjacent conservation land. At our first site meeting, we walked the property and the conservation land, observing the steep drop from the house site to Reservoir pond, a remnant of the town’s 19th century for drinking water supply. The challenge was how to be able to see the pond from the house without diminishing the natural beauty of the property, especially as viewed from the pond. An additional challenge: the ground floor of the house was programmed to include an attached two car garage, two bedrooms and living areas totaling 3,000 sf. To top it off there was granite ledge present on the site, making leveling the site prohibitively expensive. Here’s how we did it in a few easy steps


Step 1: Break Up the Plan. To fit the house into the land, we needed to see the house as separate volumes that could be separated so they could step down the hill. The garage is placed at the highest level, farthest from the pond and is connected to the house by enclosed stairs that bridge over a small stream that is fed from the runoff from the home’s roof. The bedrooms and kitchen are located in the middle level of the house. The living and media rooms are located at the lowest elevation and nearest the reservoir. This arrangement avoided flattening the site to accommodate the house. The three smaller pieces tuck more gracefully into the contours of the land.


Step 2: Varying the Roof Line: The profile of a house against the sky is always important, and especially so for this property. The house can be seen from the walking trails that surround the pond. To keep the house discreet against the skyline, the stepped floor plan allows the roofs to step as well. Further articulation is created by having the second floor cover only about half the first floor, avoiding a massive second floor against the sky.


Step 3: Path to the Front Door: From the garden gate located adjacent to the garage, a stone path leads toward the front door, before taking an abrupt turn to pass over a bridge spanning the stream. The path sequence shows off the steeply pitched site and strengthens the experience of the terraced design. The path also highlights some of the design’s sustainable features, including roof runoff being captured in a rain garden to replenish the ground water.