MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects - Smith Residence
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Smith Residence

MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

House  /  Completed
MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
This is a vacation home located on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, adjacent to the architect’s farm. The home consists of three pavilions on a two-acre site spanning from a salt pond on the east to bold oceanfront on the west. This small peninsula historically supported an inshore fishing port.

The project consists of three structures: a ‘day pavilion’, a ‘night pavilion’ and a ‘shed’. The almost entirely glazed day pavilion emphasizes ‘prospect’, while the cave like night pavilion emphasizes ‘refuge’. The shed, perched on the roadside retaining wall, acts like a gate house. Together, a village is created by the careful aggregation of these simple gable-roofed forms, producing an effect which is greater than the sum of its parts. While these traditional
forms echo local vernacular buildings, they are made absolutely modern through their Corten cladding, aluminium fenestration and minimalist detailing.

Smith Residence is perched on a stone acropolis, like a ruin, protected by Corten steel plate roofs. The stone plinth is constructed of local granite, brought to the place by retreating glaciers during the last ice age, over 15,000 years ago. Deeply local, it is also the foundation material traditionally hand split for the construction of all of the nearby historic ruins.

The landscape procession toward the project begins on gaining a hilltop overlook of the village on arrival. Then, the procession is pinched by a pair of reconstructed historic buildings. Then, the road is framed by agricultural fences. Then, one passes by a granite retaining wall below the project. Then, one swings around the gate house shed. Then, between the shed and pavilions, a view is framed back toward the farm. Then, one winds up a monumental granite stair, squeezing between the day and night pavilions. Then, one arrives on the granite plinth, framing a view to a
distant lighthouse. Finally, the visitor enters the compressed foyer of the day pavilion.

At a time when so much of our world is in flux, this is a project that is about timeless archetypes, rather than novelty or fashion. It is less about itself than it is about the landscape cultivated around it.

The house is more about resolution than novelty; more about being ‘good’ than being ‘new’. It is a mature expression of a body-of-work, or architectural language, developed over forty years. This project really began in 1994, when the architect and a group of his students constructed a translucent tent over a 400 year old granite ruin adjacent to the new house. In 2016 the architect made an idealized ‘restoration’ of that ruin, as a sunken sky space for dining. The clients’ initial request was for a house design that referred to that local, historic ruin.

This project is less about its quality as an object than it is about revealing the nature of the surrounding landscape, explaining the climate and creating community. This is a proto-urban project, forming a village, together with other houses designed by the architect, on the old fishing village site. The reconstituted village is dense, requiring a careful handling of views both from and to each building, in order to optimize community and privacy. Multiple courtyards
are framed between the structures, creating micro-climates that catch the sun and block the wind, following the seasons and daily rituals of dwelling.

The day pavilion contains the social functions of the dwelling - kitchen, dining, and living. This temple-like place atop the stone plinth is almost completely glazed, emphasizing the datum of the ocean horizon, and views to the surrounding hills, and buildings. Structural frames at 12’ centers, constructed of steel angles and channels, establish the rhythm of the space. The polished concrete floor is contrasted by the white ash plywood ceiling. Two totemic
elements punctuate the day pavilion: a 28’ long, free standing kitchen core and island, clad in 2” white ash boards; and a 16’ granite fireplace, with a 10-ton mantle stone. Tables are custom designed for the house. A granite wine cellar is hidden beneath the kitchen, accessed by a secret white ash trap door and staircase.

One crosses the granite plinth to access the night pavilion, which is mirrored in the infinity hot tub. The cantilevered Corten ‘bite’ frames views to the landscape on entry. The bedroom is a minimalist white wooden volume, with a sunken, white ash ‘vessel’ below (floor, wainscot and window seat). The granite walls that mark one's arrival finally lead to the sky-lit dressing room and white marble bathroom, with a view to the cliffs beyond.


 Kingsburg, Nova Scotia
 258 mq
 MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
 Design Lead: Brian MacKay-Lyons; Project Architect: Shane Andrews; Furnishings: Sawa Rostkowska; Project Team: Ashley Hannon; Matthew Bishop; Joseph Burkett; Tyler Reynolds
 Phil Creaser
 Blackwell Structural Engineers
 Lange's Rock Farm; Acapulco Pools; Charles Lantz Cabinetry
 Doublespace Photography


MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and Denver, USA. The practice works locally and internationally on cultural, academic and residential projects, providing architectural, interior design and urban design services. There are four Principals: Brian MacKay-Lyons, Talbot Sweetapple, Melanie Hayne and Shane Andrews.

In over 30 years of work, the practice has built an international reputation for design excellence confirmed by 130+ awards, including the prestigious 2017 Global Award for Sustainable Architecture. The firm's work has been featured internationally in over 500 publications and 100 exhibitions.

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