MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is an architecture firm based in Halifax, Nova Scotia that offers architectural design, interior design, and urban design services. It works on local and international projects that offer traditional vernacular geometries with monumental modesty that are fabricated with modern materials and detailing.
The firm has built international recognition for its design excellence through its publications and exhibitions in Canada, the United States, and Europe alongside winning over many honourable awards including the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada Firm Award and Global Award for Sustainable Architecture. Their designs for the projects are driven by the site, its landscape, and culture and hence tend to work with local builders on site. The firm provides affordable prototype dwellings that are relevant to today’s environmental crisis.
Here are 15 projects by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited:
1. Smith House
Located on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast the Smith House is a residential project which spans over a 2-acre site that supports an inshore fishing port. This village housing project has a proto-urban design approach that tries to create microclimates and views through the designing of a courtyard system around the house.
The three gable-roofed forms and use of the local stone granite onto which the structure rests give it vernacular sense which is echoed with the use of modern materials in cladding and fenestration and minimalist detailing provided in the structure. The structure frames hilltop views of the village and the landscape around it. The outward-looking structure gives more importance to the landscape around it than prioritizing itself.
2. Bridge House
Nestled on a 7-acre waterfront lot in Medway Bay, Nova Scotia parallel to the sea bridging two bedrock outcrops is the four-bedroom family retreat called the Bridge House. It is a three-story-tall and provides outdoor living through outdoor decks, porch, and balcony bridge which are incisions that embrace its natural environment and frame specific views of the landscape surrounding it. The structure is a monolith made of a steel skeleton and covered with wood which looks like a floating lantern made of wood over the sea.
The main level accommodates an open common area that is surrounded by the kitchen, living room, and family room. The second level consists of sleeping quarters with a simple yet beautiful palette of materials like concrete, wood, tile, and glass used for its interiors. The vertical wooden planks used in the exterior bridges the indoors and the outdoors and the use of board and batten, corrugated metal, and chain create interplays between the patterns of the structure and the landscape around it.
3. Two Hulls
The house is situated in a glacial landscape mounted on top of granite bedrocks floating above turquoise waters like a ship surrounded by white sand beaches. The two houses act as a pair of binoculars giving clear views of the environment it encompasses. A concrete seawall protects the house from the harsh waves coming from the seaside. The structure is built of steel endoskeleton which resists lateral load and gravity load.
The outdoor cantilevered porches of the two pavilions frame views towards the sea’s side. A common entrance is provided which leads to the foyer and the kitchen from here the sleeping room to the right and the living room to the left are the functions that separate the two pavilions. A concrete fin foundation is provided to prevent damage from the water flowing below the structure. The overall mass of the structure creates an ironic monumentality of boats with its wooden board on-batten skin wraps.
4. Bigwin island club cabins
The Bigwin island club cabins is a planned community of 40 individual guest houses surrounded by maple, pine, and ash trees in Bigwin Island. The variety in the landscape found on the island has inspired the design template for each cabin. The design for the cabins was a competition entry won by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.
The design brief set for the project wanted the competitors to design a project that respect’s the island’s history, architectural aesthetic, and environment and employ sustainable and energy-efficient techniques to build the project. Each cabin is assembled from a simple kit of parts: a porch, a deck, a room, a heart, a sleeping room, roof all fitted together with seamless connections.
The project is designed using local natural materials and employs practical, prosaic construction techniques. The cabins are designed in clusters and are connected through the transparency and openness built in the design of each cabin.
5. Horizon neighbourhood
Located in Powder Mountain, Utah the horizon project is a predesigned neighbourhood project of 30 cabins. The cabins are designed in four different typologies which either follow the contours of the mountain or project out of the mountainside. The dramatic topography of the site and the variation in strategies of the project’s design give a sense of variety and unity at the same time.
To foster chance meetings and social interactions the cabins are designed around courtyards that connect them along with creating microclimates in the windswept open landscape of the site. The architect has carefully organized the cabins to provide privacy by minimizing views into neighbouring units along with providing southwest sunset views to each of them. A steel bridge provides entry onto the second floor of the structure.
Each cabin is elevated and rested on steel stilts which make the structure light on the fragile high desert landscape. MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple is known for its climate-responsive architecture and minimalist designs, in this project they achieved the same by using climate-responsive materials and appropriating the solar orientation of the structure.
6. De Vries house
MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple designed this house for a retired writer. The design for this project was focused on creating a personal experience for the client of him living amongst his books. The galvalume –cladded wedge house rests on a cliff in Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast. The long voluminous structure is given careful incisions to provide scenic views of the coastal landscape creating refuge to dwell amongst books and covered entrance and terrace.
The structure is composed of a north service wall facing the woods and a glazed south wall facing the sea. A skylight slot is provided in the structure that acts as an orientation device to connect the main entrance to the other function: master suite, great room, general library. Cladded white Channel-joint wood boards on the exterior soften the transition between the silver coastline and the completely white interior of the structure.
7. Cliff House
Perched off a bedrock cliff anchored in stilts the Cliff House is the first of a series of the project on the 455-acre site in Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast. The high elevation of the project provides a sense of verticality and a fifth dimension to the house that heightens one’s experience with the landscape it is built around. The calm cedar cladding box that rests on the ground gives a contrasting feeling of flying off the cliff within its interior. It is an extremely low budget project repeatable prototype and an affordable housing solution.
The cabin is designed to provide passive solar gains and framed views both out to sea and along the coastline. A south-facing deck allows the interiors to flow outwards through the large windows along with other functions: a great room, service core, and a sleeping porch are provided in the structure.
8. Enough House
The Enough house a proto-urban infill project is both a satellite rural studio as well as an architectural testing ground for an intern architect working at Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects in Nova Scotia’s Shobac farm. The house is an affordable, spacious, low budget, and aesthetic project much like all the projects Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects have worked on. It has contemporary design materiality with materials like pine floorboards, plywood cabinetry, exposed Douglas fir plywood sheathing that gives the building a monolithic effect.
The gabled volume sits on two concrete walls that extend into the landscape, a volume of the south corner entrance is cut away to create a dramatic effect. This negative space is balanced by floor-to-ceiling glazing at the north corner which creates expansive views from within the agricultural landscape surrounding it.
9. Quebec Pool House
This minimalist project is constructed on the rural property into the side of a mountain of the client. It consists of a shaded terrace with a fireplace, a swimming pool, gym, lounge, and service areas that are embraced by a long board-formed concrete wall surrounding an outdoor infinity pool and spa that extends into the landscape. A monolithic roof extends above the fireplace that protects the structure from the climate.
The glass walls provided in the structure fully open up to eliminate the boundary between the indoor and outdoor. The structure draws inspiration from Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion. The structure perfectly fits and blends into the landscape.
10. Sliding House
Housed on an agrarian hillside the Sliding House designed by Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is an addition to the barn houses in the village. The critical regionalist architecture of the structure makes it radically modern along with being of its place. The house is a box with a horizontal incision made with ribbon windows that tends to divide the house into the upper and lower bedroom and creates scenic views towards the ocean side.
The structure is orientated to achieve blocking cold westerly winds. The minimalist aesthetic of the structure allows the landscape surrounding it to dominate.
11. Martin-Lancaster house
The house is situated on the rugged Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and covers a 3000 square foot area.it accommodates four primary functions: a gabled garage/guest house, a gabled pavilion, a service bar, an arrival court. The architect has designed the arrival sequence as a procession towards the sea. The minimalist structure with its monolithic use of local materials responds well to the frequent wet/dry, freeze/thaw cycles of the marine climate.
The curtain wall glazing allows for transparency between the inside and the outside thereby inviting the landscape into the interiors. Hydronic radiation system is used as a passive solar building strategy in the interior. The timber pavilion is designed to allow for social functions to occur.
12. Ghost 7
The Ghost Architectural laboratory is the education initiative design of Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited. It was designed to promote knowledge in the field of architecture through direct experience which includes project-based learning with an emphasis on the landscape, material, culture, and community. The structure is a perforated version of the archetypal courtyard form of habitation.
The landscape percolates through the four structures. The buildings are packed together with tight spaces between them which was an inspiration from the fish sheds of Nova Scotia. Each of the four modest wood cabins consists of sleeping areas, bathroom, kitchen, mechanical services, and balcony; the served shed houses the gathering space.
13. Hill House
Located atop a glacial hill on the south shore of Nova Scotia the house embraces the traditional light timber framing and taut skinned building envelopes which is massive as well as a delicate design. The house cultivates rather than consuming the landscape with its hilltop courtyard that responds to the traditional patterns of hilltop farms in the country.
Oriented along the north-south axis to allow for the sun to reach the interiors thereby making the house act as a refuge and protect the user from harsh Canadian climate. Cultural sustainability is attained in the structure with the use of local renewable materials.
14. Howard House
This modest house plays a didactic role within both the cultural and natural landscapes. Sitting on a 40acre land surrounded by the sea on the three sides the house has a protective gesture against the prevailing westerly winds coming off the sea. The structure consists of corrugated galvalume exterior skin that is raised on a concrete foundation with a mono-pitch roof that climbs to the south and the water and unobstructed living space which progresses from the garage to the entry court, to the kitchen, living, and cantilevered deck.
The tube-like structure consists of a bridge, well, hearth, truss, south window that provides comfort and placemaking to the user. The house has a passive environmental approach in terms of the material used in the interiors to provide heating and ventilation.
15. Sunset rocket house
Located close to a fishing village on a plot where the meadow meets the coastline in Nova Scotia, Canada this holiday home overlooks the ocean. The architect designed the structure as a landscape viewing instrument with its side opened to the Atlantic Ocean horizon and its end focusing aperture to the sunset. The structure is raised above the ground to prevent the rogue waves coming from the sea which would now pass under the house. Galvanized aluminium cladding on the exterior and large sliding barn doors provide a robust shield against the prevailing weather.
The underside of the structure that is supporting and elevating it is constructed from marine-grade plywood which is generally used in local boat building. The glass walls frame the views of the ocean and sunset; the main living space is located near the terrace area; low windows provide views from the bathtub.