Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project

Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project

Located on the western shore of Lake Memphremagog, near the village of Ogden in Quebec's Eastern Townships region, the "De la Descente" project unfolds in a steeply sloping context, ending in a rocky cliff bordering the lake.

Curated by Aline Chahine | 
June 19, 2024
| Est. Reading: 3 minutes
Project Details:
Country:
Address: Stanstead, Canada
Program:
Year: 2024
Area: 4500 pi2

The "De la Descente" project unfolds on the western shore of Lake Memphremagog, near the charming village of Ogden in Quebec's Eastern Townships. This dramatic location features a steep slope that descends to a rocky cliff overlooking the vast expanse of the lake.

Designed for a young Montreal couple with two children, the project envisioned a forest retreat that could also comfortably host friends with families. The unique site presented both challenges and opportunities. A small plateau nestled between the slopes offered the perfect location for the house, while access was situated one floor below due to the topography. This clever placement allowed the architects to maximize the spectacular lake views.

Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project
Photo © Maxime Brouillet

Vernacular context

The immediate architectural context is marked by a multitude of houses on agricultural lands and chalets on slopes bordering the lake. An empirical evolution of the built environment is palpable as one navigates the streets, translating into successive additions of accessory buildings, resulting in an urban fabric distinct for the presence of multiple structures of different scales and alignments.

Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project
Photo © Maxime Brouillet

From the beginning of the sketch, the designers sought to integrate that aesthetic into the project. The objective was therefore to capture the essence of this vernacular framework, while creating a contemporary and harmonious dwelling with its environment.

Concept and interior spaces

To integrate this vernacular influence, the garage was designed as a detached structure from the main house, oriented at a different angle.

The garage, accessible from the path, includes an interior staircase to the upper floor. This staircase provides access to either the "loft" for guests on the garage's upper floor, or to a short exterior passage leading to the main house's ground floor. This level arrangement ensures a smooth and practical transition between the loft and the main house, which are then on the same level.

Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project
Photo © Maxime Brouillet

"During the first site visit, I wondered how we would make access to the plateau possible considering the municipality prohibited any work on steep slopes," recalls Marc-Antoine. "The solution of using the garage to ascend the terrain was, like the built environment, a functional response whose composition contributes to the project's aesthetics."

Apart from their needs, the clients communicated a single conceptual request: to have a cathedral living room with triangular fenestration at the top.

"It's always challenging to integrate triangular windows internally without having an exterior façade less well proportioned at the fascia level," explains Marc-Antoine Chrétien. "It was by working on this request that we chose to extend the volume outward and recess the curtain wall inward."

Inside, in the cathedral space created by this volume, the spaces are organized organically, creating areas defined by furniture rather than physical partitions. Walls are covered in wood panels like the acoustic wood panels from wallterra.com.

Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project
Photo © Maxime Brouillet

Architectural design

The architectural design favors the use of natural and durable materials, in harmony with the surrounding wooded environment. The exterior cladding, in locally sourced pre-aged white cedar, was chosen for its durability and visual integration with the forest setting. Inside, the same wood species was used, but with a sanded and oiled finish.

Dormer windows play a key role in the "De la Descente" project. Indeed, the decision to prioritize the use of attics rather than adding a floor respects the built context and reduces the verticality of the project, while enhancing a visual anchoring to the site. The openings in these dormers offer targeted views to the outside, creating a sensation of floating among the trees. These architectural elements allow continuous visual connection with the surrounding nature, while providing generous natural light in the attics, which are often dark when treated more traditionally.

Nestled on a Cliffside: The De la Descente Project
Photo © Maxime Brouillet

The pool, located in close proximity to the house, offers a space for spontaneous swims and creates a visual continuity with the lake. A concrete fire pit, located a few steps below the level of the house, allows for the enjoyment of views without obstructing perspectives. The entire project is designed with a playful approach, playing with volumes, sharp edges, curves, and heights to create a sense of walking inside a geometric sculpture. The exterior architecture creates deliberate ambiguity, giving the impression of an existing building having undergone successive expansions.

"Transporting large structural elements, concrete, and windows to this steep terrain was a daunting task," explains Dominic Chaussé, contractor at Nu Drom Construction. "It's always a challenge to build on difficult terrains, but we are always rewarded by the result."

Project Details:

Contractor: Nu Drom
Photos: Maxime Brouillet
Sofas: Ghauz
Exterior and interior siding: Maxiforet
Roofing: Mac Metal
Lighting: Luminaire Authentik
Landscaping contractor: Nature Art
Foyer: Béton Johnstone

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