New House Designs Expand Definition of Buildable Space

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Robison Wells
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My grandparents live on a hill overlooking the Salt Lake City valley. They have an amazing view: their second-floor balcony has always been the place to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. I remember in 2002, when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake, we watched a firework show that encompassed the valley—six massive firework shows, synchronized, so anyone, anywhere in the city, could at least see one. And, from our vantage, we saw them all.

And it’s not by chance. When my grandpa built the house in the 1950s, he didn’t only buy his land—he bought the view. The lot across the street was empty for the first fifteen years of my life, before someone figured out how to build a home—in an expensive neighborhood—that wouldn’t block my grandparents view of the valley.

The result was impressive. Architects designed a vertical, six story house that clung to the steep hill below, its roof the only thing visible from street level. Somehow, it even managed to fit in a lap pool.

But now houses are being built that put it to shame. With premium, hilltop land running scarce, some architects are managing to fit houses into the slimmest of places.

Introducing the cliffhouse. According to Triangulard, an architectural magazine: “Swedish [architectural] firm Manofactory have literally taken housing solutions to a new level, questioning why we need to build at ground level at all.” Their showpiece is the Nestinbox, a series of five housing units, each supported by steel driven into the side of a cliffface, and connected by several sets of stairs.

Inspired by swallows nests and other kinds of bird nests, the Nestinbox is light, airy, and beautiful. Each unit is approximately 500 square feet, but with spiral stairs and three floors, feels larger than it is. Each contains a kitchen and dining area, living room, bathroom with shower, a double bedroom, and studio space—which could be used as a kids’ room.

These can be literally driven into a cliff, making them extremely efficient, using land that no one else could use. They’re cheap, simple and chic, and expand what has been a lack of buildable land. So far, there’s only one demo built, but plans to expand to other space-conscious cities is in the works.

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