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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
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.

Cliff House in Ontario, Canada by Altius Architecture (designed using ArchiCAD)

March 3rd, 2012 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Altius Architecture Inc.

Set on the Cliff-side of a much-cherished lake, this cottage seeks to enhance the extraordinary surrounding scenery through the thoughtful integration of building elements with the natural assets of the site and terrain. This dwelling emerges form the rock formation of the cliff using the same local granite to form its base. A central core acts as an anchor that circulates movement, light and air into the living spaces that pinwheel and cantilever off into the landscape. In spite of its modest scale, the residence easily accommodates the family of four by providing amenity for dinning, cooking, living, reading and sleeping which are each carefully tuned to the unique view, light and breezes of the cliff. To balance the heavy mass derived from the fireplaces; cantilevered volumes, flying roofs and floor to ceiling glass are used to achieve a lightness of form as it works to bring the lake into the living spaces.


Exterior view

  • Architects: Altius Architecture Inc.
  • Project: Cliff House
  • Location: Muskoka Lakes, Ontario, Canada
  • Date of Occupancy: August 2009
  • Area: 3,200 sf
  • Lead Design Architect: Trevor McIvor, Tony Round
  • Architecture: Trevor McIvor, Tony Round: Altius Architecture Inc.
  • Engineer: Christopher Cucco: CUCCO engineering + design
  • Mechanical Consultants: Paul Shrigley: Sunburn Mechanical; Chip Loughead: Gravenhurst Plumbing, Heating & Electric
  • Construction Management: Trevor McIvor, Tony Round: Altius Architecture Inc.
  • Construction Consultants: Doug Orchard: Orchard Contracting
  • Software used: ArchiCAD

Green Roof

Living lightly on the site was important to the owners due to their strong mandate for sustainability. As a retreat from urban life, the desire to become completely self sufficient and independent from external infrastructure became critical in the design of a completely off grid residence. A two tiered approach is implemented to take advantage of both passive strategies which work to reduce energy loads and augment comfort so that the active strategies are sufficient to provide for the remaining energy needs. Energy efficient design in this case is not divorced from the experiential qualities of the dwelling but is used to enhance the unification of building to the landscape for the pleasure of its owners.


Exterior view

This system implements a passive gain and solar mass strategy that takes advantage of the sun’s daily passage and the movement of air in different seasons for each space. In summer, solar shading limits heat gain while operable windows are orientated to take advantage of natural ventilation. The operable windows in the central circulation space are designed to make use of the stack effect so that hot stale air is vented out and cool fresh air is drawn in. Green roofs are designed to mediate temperatures and control runoff while connecting the building foreground with the distant landscape. In winter, optimized glazing and solar orientation are used in conjunction with thermal mass in the form of concrete slabs and stone walls and the two interior fireplaces to store the sun’s radiant energy to form the base of the heating system. A high performance envelope design also works to limit unfavorable heat loss and gains all year round.


Exterior view

Evacuated tube solar arrays are used collect the sun’s energy to collect hot water that is stored in 10 thermal mass tanks. The hot water collected through the panels then feed into a hydronic radiant floor system to ensure a highly efficient use of technology. A series of photovoltaic panels are used to provide the buildings on the property with electricity. To ensure their success, the electrical loads are carefully managed and are minimized by selecting energy efficient appliances and LED lighting. To round out the supply of heat in the residence, advanced geothermal systems with masonry heaters are used to take full advantage of abundant biomass and latent heat available on site.

Exterior view


Set on a rock formation overlooking a spectacular lake, the Cliff House seeks to enhance the natural beauty of the site through the thoughtful integration of building elements and the natural assets of the landscape. The program is tuned to the unique views, sun, and breezes of the site so that the interior spaces work in harmony with the dynamic conditions of the external environment. A tall central void acts as an anchor that circulates movement, light and air into living spaces that pinwheel and extend into the landscape. Balancing the heavy mass of two interior fireplace cores: cantilevered volumes, flying roofs and floor-to-ceiling glass achieve a lightness of form and work to draw the lake into each interior space. The desire to live lightly on the site in order to celebrate the site’s natural beauty led to the design of an off-grid building so that the clients could reduce their environmental impact and be independent of external infrastructure. Sustainable design in this project is not divorced from the experiential qualities of the dwelling but enhances the unification of building and landscape.



Material Selection:

As the residence emerges from the cliff, it rests on a base crafted from local granite that sets the standard for material selection to be regional, robust and beautiful.


Night Terrace


Selecting local wood species such as Pine, Birch and Walnut is important to the design as it celebrates the site’s uniqueness and roots the Cliff House into place. The Cape Cod Pre-Finished Pine is used as the main cladding material to express the terrain’s ruggedness while the warm hue of the Douglas Fir used for the soffits, window and door frames invites human interaction. Locally quarried granite also reduced the carbon footprint since the transportation of heavy materials long distances is energy intensive.

Altius Roof


The Pine and Douglas Fir used as the exterior siding are also selected for the capacity to weather the harsh elements year round while the Sansin Enviro-Stain protects the soffits, windows and doors from wear and tear. Engineered lumber is selected for structural elements because it’s an economical way to span and cantilever long distances. The durability of wood as both a structural and finish material reduce the environmental impact by reducing the waste from re-finishing and repairing deteriorating components and increases the longevity of the building.

Exterior view


The selection of wood while practical is made in many cases because it’s beautiful; the properties of wood are such that they enhance the harmony of the building to nature, thus enabling the emotional well-being of the clients. Texture, tone, aroma and variable characteristics of wood, both unifies and diversifies the quality of interior and exterior space without the addition of non –renewable materials or harmful chemicals and finishes.



The Cliff House expresses a continuing desire to move forward towards a complete, holistic and collaborative approach to building. To ensure the quality of the house, the architects, engineers, consultants, constructors and clients have worked together to achieve an end result that is greater than the sum of their individual parts. This team approach to building has been essential in meeting our client’s mandate to be completely self-sustaining without compromising the comfort, budget or schedule of the project.



To ensure that the house is successfully off-grid, a full roster of passive and active strategies are used. While optimized glazing and solar orientation with the thermal mass of concrete slabs and stone walls form the basis of the heating system, two contra-flow masonry heaters in the fireplace cores take full advantage of abundant biomass available on site for supplemental heat. An array of evacuated tube solar collectors use the sun’s energy to heat water that circulates through 10 thermal storage tanks which then drives the radiant in-floor heating system.


Kitchen Bar

All systems of this cutting edge dwelling are closely monitored to verify that this attempt at a completely self-sustaining building works as well as predicted. The Cliff House not only offers a comfortable home with reduced energy bills for its owners, but also provides a valuable model for off–grid residential.







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Categories: ArchiCAD, Cottage, House

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