Ravine House


Completed in 2014, the project is a private residence situated on its own ‘table’ and nestled in the heart of a protected ravine that is defined by unique landscaping and significant grade changes in every conceivable direction. Not enough can be said for the beauty of the site. As such the landscape has proven to be a driving factor in the design, resulting in a sense of flow between both interior and exterior spaces and a constant visual connection from within the house to the tree canopy beyond.


The process involved in this design has been key. Any preconceived notions were to be left aside so as to allow the design to emerge over time, to foster a process of discovery and ‘best fit’. This has held true in terms of a complete site analysis including a study of the potential for reuse of the existing house, sustainability opportunities, views, access to light, sun studies, spatial relationships, sheltered exterior spaces, massing options, innovation in systems and detailing, site access and construction concerns.


In terms of the form of the house, the plan is simple in concept, based on two masses on the east and west, flanking a third ‘central space’ that acts as the heart of the scheme. This two storey volume provides a sense of arrival, circulation, natural ventilation, access to light and views within the space as well as to the landscape on both levels. A roof that wraps around three sides of the composition, apart from providing protection from the elements, acts as a unifying form in itself, creating a dramatic soffit condition upon approach up the hill and transforming into a sun-filled covered porch as it terminates in the back yard. Several studies were executed to develop all roof conditions, so as to arrive at a scheme that responds or ‘gestures’ to the topography of the site, allows for sculpting of the various spaces inside, and suggests potential vernacular references while avoiding being derivative. Such studies along with the desire to develop a contemporary design with attention to craft through a warm palette of materials resulted in bold yet inviting forms, each articulated individually while maintaining a balance within the overall composition.


The entire ground floor was designed to accommodate radiant heating, utilizing stack effect in the central space to minimize heating requirements above. This is being accomplished through a 50 millimetre topping on standard wood joist framing in the central space and kitchen and with a slab on grade condition in the west wing. Radiant heating on the second floor is limited to both bathrooms, while using radiators off the same system in the bedrooms and library as required. Just as the central space allows heat to rise during the winter, primary cooling is provided from an attic mechanical space feeding the second floor rooms and the central space, allowing cool air to drop and help control the temperature at the ground floor. Secondary cooling for the ground floor and basement as well as back-up heating is provided by air handling equipment located in the basement.  By splitting the mechanical systems between basement and attic and by including heat recovery ventilation units a highly efficient system is achieved. This allows for easy control within various zones and eliminates the need for bulkheads and significant risers throughout the design.


Due to restricted access to the site along with the inherent beauty of the surroundings, it was decided that to best develop a sense of permanence to the project, and provide for minimal maintenance over the upcoming years, that the material palette would need to reflect this. As such, a thorough materiality study was pursued once the overall programmatic elements and massing were in place. The predominant materials selected include iron spot brick, natural local stone for the re cladding of all the basement walls and landscaped interventions, shou-sugi-ban (charred wood siding), western red cedar soffits, ipe, and composite recycled products for the main deck and roofing.


Credit – Warren Mack and David Snell completed under David V. Snell, Architect