The Cliff House In Nova Scotia

© Greg Richardson Photography


The Cliff House, designed by leading east coast firm MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited, sits on a bluff along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast.

It’s the first in a series of projects on a 455 acre site.

The building has attracted a number of awards including the 2012 Governor General’s Medal for Architecture, the 2011 North American Wood Design Honor Award and the 2010 Lieutenant Governor’s Citation.



© Greg Richardson Photography


The un-insulated house is designed as a summer home it possesses an elegance of material and form that is mirrored in its program.

Only the essentials are provided.

The landscaping in the yard is simply a series of stepped platforms rising to meet the entrance.

First there is managed lawn, then gravel and finally wooden deck. A progression moving from wild to tame. Along the cliff edge have been placed large landscaping rocks, stacked two high to create a weighty barrier.



© Greg Richardson Photography


Inside, the emphasis is placed on the common area, connected to the kitchen and dining area.

The Front hall passes washrooms and the stairs leading to the common area, which possesses the greatest view.

The bedroom is tucked away on a half story at the front of the house open to the common area below. The room has only one large window facing east along the shoreline.

The interior is simply left bare exposing the light wood framing on the structure.

Asymmetrical steel trusses, painted black, are placed at thirds of the building visually dividing up the top half of the space and giving the seating areas below a slightly more human scale.



© Greg Richardson Photography

Outside, on the beach below the entire structure is supported by Stainless steel braces anchored into concrete foundations among the rocks.

The architects had high aspirations for the concept driven experience.

Archetypal form of the house contrasts so sharply with the natural landscape that the notion of a human dwelling is brought into sharp relief.

The material palette is unabashedly basic. The exterior is given such a reduced palette that it conjures up feelings of austerity.

This is a commonly used strategy; it makes the building subordinate to the landscape as a way to highlight the building’s context.


The front façade with its calm grey, planar landscaping and elemental shape culminate in such a way that the approach to the house leaves the impression of immutable safety.

This experience is directly opposed to the interior experience, which displays a wide vista below.

The impression of safety that was felt in the approach is dissolved upon entering the common area.

Windows are strategically placed so that the bay opens up below without the bluff to visually anchor the building.

The architects intended the building to feel as thought it were floating on the sea.



All Photos Credited to © Greg Richardson Photography with thanks


We consider this magical!

To visit the MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited website click Here


Researched and Written by Robin R. V Whitteker, undergraduate student at OCAD University in the Environmental Design program.

Posted In: Nova Scotia

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