Courtyard House on a Steep Site by Hutchison & Maul

September 25, 2010

Seattle-based architects Hutchison & Maul designed this house on Mercer Island, Washington.


The site is very steep, long and narrow – 50’ wide by 400’ long with an average slope of 35%. Located on the west side of Mercer Island, there are panoramic views west towards Seattle and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Zoning permitted construction on only 35’ of the 50’ property width, and limited the height of the building to 30’ relative to the slope of the site.

Exterior terraces and courtyards are carved into the sloping hillside to facilitate pedestrian circulation throughout the site; to provide natural light throughout the primary levels of the house; and to provide privacy from the neighboring properties. The house consists of two parts: a concrete  plinth which contains utilitarian and less-used spaces; and a hovering wood volume above that contains the private functions of family bedrooms and bathrooms. The resulting space sandwiched between the wood structure and concrete  plinth houses the primary living areas, bound by large expanses of glazing that afford views through the open level of the house to the Lake beyond.

To access the house, one navigates through the series of excavated exterior terraces and stairways, across water features and bridges, then down another stairway, finally arriving at a small exterior glass-enclosed courtyard in the center of the residence. This entry sequence informed the shape of the wood volume as well as the placement and configuration of the concrete  retaining walls. Horizontal wood siding assembled with members of alternating depth enhance the notions of texture, shadow and perspective; contrast with the smooth concrete site walls; and ultimately heighten the journey from driveway to center of house.

Visit the Hutchison & Maul Architects website – here.

Photography by Alan Abramowitz, Tom Hille, and Eduardo Calderon