House at 9,000 Feet / MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

Architect: MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
Area: 511 m²
Year: 2022
Photography: Nic Lehoux
Design Lead: Brian MacKay-Lyons
Project Manager: Matthew Bishop
Project Team: Izak Bridgman, Alastair Bird, Isaac Fresia, Ben Fuglevand, Sawa Rostkowska, Diana Carl, Jesse Martyn, Lucas McDowell, Jennifer Esposito
Structural: Blackwell Structural Engineers
Mechanical: Harris Dudley Co
Electrical: BNA Consulting
Civil: Talisman Civil Consultants
Geotech: Intermountain Geoenvironmental Services Inc
Contractor: Edge Builders
Country: United States

High Desert Retreat, a ski house designed by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects in the Intermountain Region of the United States, redefines luxury living at an elevation of 9,000 feet. Completed in 2022, the 511 m² residence balances extreme site conditions with spectacular mountain and valley views. Floating on steel stilts and accessed via a bridge, the house employs passive solar strategies while offering ski-in/ski-out amenities and five bedrooms, seamlessly blending with the environment.

The High Desert Retreat, designed by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects and completed in 2022, is perched on a mountaintop in the Intermountain Region of the United States. Elevated at 9,000 feet above sea level, the 511 m² ski house was developed to respond to its extreme site conditions and climate challenges.

A 30% slope across the site and an annual snowfall of 40 feet led to a unique design solution: floating the house on steel stilts and accessing it via a bridge. Southern exposure offers stunning views of the valley and nearby mountaintops while providing a passive solar strategy. The arid, high desert climate poses heat gain challenges, particularly in winter when the low sun reflects off the snow. Additionally, the location is known for its high wind loads.

The five-bedroom house comprises 4400 square feet of inhabited space, along with a garage and mechanical room. Visitors arrive above the house, overlooking the roof towards the surrounding mountains. Both pedestrians and vehicles reach the house via a perforated steel bridge. Inside, a transparent stair lit by a skylight guides visitors down from the entrance foyer to the monumental great room, marked by its high, curved cedar ceiling.

House at 9,000 feet / mackay-lyons sweetapple architects

An 88-foot-long window seat on the south side of the house passively controls solar heat gain and frames the spectacular southern views. A covered deck at the western end offers sunset views over the valley below. The best bedroom and media room are at the eastern end, while the concrete ‘core’ contains four guest bedrooms over two levels. Skiers benefit from a ski-in/ski-out feature on the ground floor.

Formally, the 100-foot-long extruded ellipse is clad with red cedar both inside and out. The steel-framed bridge-like structure is supported by steel columns, minimizing concrete usage due to the site’s access constraints. A 24-foot-long soapstone hearth-kitchen island anchors the great room. Clear white ash flooring and millwork feature throughout, complementing the minimalist aesthetic. The environmental ethic that drives the design is to “touch the land lightly.”

House at 9,000 feet / mackay-lyons sweetapple architects
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Project Location

Address: Intermountain Region, USA

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