How to deal with one very steep hill?

At Mont-Saint-Marie, on the same hill as one of it’s most famous ski slopes and downhill mountain bike trails, lies a newly developed neighbourhood full of interesting cottages. Over the last year, Linebox has been closely involved in this development which has resulted in a number of really interesting collaborations that will come to fruition over the next couple of years.

 

The process of these collaborations has been unique, involving a lot of research and testing.

This post gives you an insight in what goes on behind the scenes early on in the process, and how we approach the main question : “How to deal with one very steep hill.“

As an architect, it is always an exciting moment when we are faced to intervene on a steep hill.

Almost every time, a hill means we are dealing with a unique site with interesting views at unconventional heights. A hill can both provide shelter or a heightened and potentially unwanted exposure, depending if your lot is sloping down or up. You can also count on the fact that an interesting natural feature will always be close : water, different vegetation, a rock formation or other ; providing an opportunity to find a close relationship between a project and its surroundings.

 

 

For our clients, it is often a daunting moment.

By its very nature, a hill questions how people live and it might throw a more traditional layout out of the water. You might access your project from the top of the hill, with the best views or a nice walk-out at the bottom. Or vice versa, if your lot climbs upwards, you might have to climb through one or two levels of bedrooms to reach the highest level where the open family room looks over the treetops.

 

What follows are three ways Linebox has proposed to intervene on the hill at Mont-Saint-Marie, combining interesting living spaces and natural light with an appreciation and respect for the topography.

 

A first option is to create steps inside the project, with a roof that follows the slope. This approach has two very interesting features.

For one, all living rooms are interconnected yet separate, offering a perspective along the slope of the hill. One of the biggest asks we get for these cottages is to have the family come together in one big space, the family room. Yet, not everyone likes an open concept space and likes to be “together” in a different way. This stepped approach allows for living, dining and playing to coexist without interference.

 

Second, the roof merges with the landscape as a gesture of respect. Like a cloak covered in snow, it disappears, showing little to no intervention in the landscape, only great views and spaces inside.

 

 

A second option is similar to the construction of a dam, where one single wall creates a rupture in the topography. This wall, acting like a retaining wall, helps to create horizontal surfaces and an offset in floor levels between the lower part and the higher part.

What is interesting about this option is that this wall can become a feature, around which the entire cottage experience can evolve. From guiding you to the front door, to moving up the stairs along this wall, to starting the fire place in an alcove, to enjoying the reflected heat after a nice ski on a cold winter day, to taking a shower watching water flow over the natural stone.

 

This layout shows how all the living spaces are organized around a wall, where it acts as a transition between open living spaces and spaces of retreat, always present.

 

A third option is to group the programme together in smaller volumes, and have each volume a bit higher up the hill than the previous one, climbing in small increments.

The smaller scale of the elements are easier to build, with more accessible and affordable components. But more importantly, the voids and gaps created between these elements allow for lots of daylight in the project thrue interesting window location and perspectives. This more clustered approach also adds layers of privacy, where openings can be looking outward, or be shielded in different ways by the neighbouring volume.

 

By the many different floor levels, more functions have the option for a walk-out exterior space, and just the simple nature of the hill allows for one or more possibilities for a rooftop access.