Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Hill House in Nova Scotia, Canada by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
April 21st, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
This house occupies the crown of a bald drumlin surrounded by the sea on three sides. The project consists of a main house and guesthouse/barn separated by a courtyard defined by two long, low concrete walls.
The constant freeze thaw cycle of ocean locales in Atlantic Canada suggests a construction method that can withstand the internal movement associated with huge temperature swings, and abundance of damp wind. Due to its exposure to the elements, and place in the cultural landscape of the rural south shore of Nova Scotia, the building system used in the Hill House was primarily of light timber framing clad in eastern white Cedar shingles. The advantage of this system is its inherent ‘plasticity’. The building is designed and built in such a way to anticipate movement and shifting as a result of the harsh climate. Wood allows the house to do just that. The 4” to the weather installation of the shingles means that any location on the building is protected by no less than 4 layers of shingles, so if one shingle shrinks, cracks or is blown off, the envelope is not compromised.
Where larger load bearing members are needed, such as in the colonnaded porches, 6”x8” Douglas fir posts are used to transfer the wind load from the roof diaphragm into the ground. Steel could have been used for this purpose, however, in a climate that frequently experiences wet, salty air and heavy fog, the potential corrosion of steel becomes a major concern. By combining the large wood posts with discreet galvanized steel cross bracing, keeping exterior steel use to a minimum, an elegant composite system is reached.
Ceilings of the project are clad in 1”x6” hemlock oriented in the longitudinal direction of the building. The visual effect of the boards, combined with the long, low proportions of the house, draws the eye along the entire length of the space emphasizing its horizontality. These wood ceilings continue to the underside of the exterior porches, blurring the transition from inside to out. Due to hemlock’s natural rot resisting qualities, it can be used on the interior and exterior with minimal concern for its durability. In comparison with the heated concrete floors, white walls, and large expanses of glass, the hemlock ceilings also provide a necessary ‘warmth’ to the space, much to the delight of its occupants. Following the design theme of public spaces embracing the courtyard, the barn is characterized by its five sets of cedar barn doors which allow it to be fully opened to this microclimate.
Maple cabinetry fills both buildings and contributes to the warmth provided by the hemlock ceilings, albeit in a more refined manner. The highlight of the millwork is showcased in the great room where a 36’ solid maple countertop (1 ½” x1 ½” laminated strips) runs the entire length of the space. All kitchen functions are contained and hidden in this counter below the 3’ line, allowing the glazing to fully occupy three sides of the space. In comparison with this ‘grounded’ cabinetry in the public section of the house, a 30’ long maple bookcase lines the loft area of the private space, accessed by a rolling maple library ladder.
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