Project: Ha-Ha House
Architecture: D’Arcy Jones Architects
Team: D’Arcy Jones, Amanda Kemeny, Craig Bissell, Matthew Ketis-Bendena
Structural: David Lee, Fraser Valley Engineering
Mechanical: Robe Pope, Ecolighten Energy Solutions
Location: Agassiz, British Columbia, Canada
Area: 4000 ft2 (main house), 1500 ft2 (grosi’s house), 3000 ft2 (sheep / tractor barn)
Photo Credits: Sama Jim Canzian
Text by D’Arcy Jones Architects
This farmhouse is located on a 14-acre farm in British Columbia’s Fraser River valley. It enjoys panoramic views of hazelnut orchards, glacial hills, Mount Baker, and Mount Cheam. The region is vulnerable to extreme weather. Storms funnel through the valley, creating some of the most extreme ground-level wind speeds in Canada.
Regular spring flooding from the Fraser River happens because the area is not protected by dikes. Consequently, building bylaws require that all new structures must be built six feet above the ground. The site is also close to a busy railway line, where passing trains create noise and vibration every few hours, 24 hours a day.
The clients are three generations, with roots in Colombia, Switzerland, and Canada. They originally wanted a small hobby farm for their own use, but their growing local reputation for raising high-quality organic lamb created a need for additional space and a new barn. One of the clients is a civil engineering contractor. He decided to capitalize on the expertise and assets of his company by building the house himself.
The design modernizes traditional extended-family farming compounds, and was developed to create a plan that brings the entire family together under a single roof. Working with the requirement to build on six feet of fill and inspired by the work of landscape architect Capability Brown in the 1700s, this house’s grassy plinth reinterprets the historic Ha-ha.
Concrete precast ‘Lock-Block’ walls clad in Corten steel surround the house, creating a six-foot level change that does away with the need for fences, ensuring farm animals are visible yet separated from the house. The farmhouse’s office cantilevers over this Ha-ha wall, and the sheep often seek shelter from the sun and rain underneath it, where they can be seen through a hole in the floor.
Inspired by medieval farms, the barn shares a wall with the farmhouse. It forms part of the north elevation’s solid wall, providing protection from the wind and nearby railway line, while ensuring visual privacy between the farmhouse and the busy arterial road. The extensive earthwork berms surrounding the house and barn were constructed with material recycled from the client’s other construction sites.
Internal spaces are organized to capture long views that are directed to specific natural features and framed views of a large central courtyard. Long corridors with one-point perspectives recall the adjacent rail lines. To emphasize the farmhouse’s long dimensions, the roof structure in the main living area has beams that span in the long dimension, exaggerating the interior’s feeling of expansiveness and distance.
The building’s mechanical systems combine environmental concerns and efficiency, but are completely hidden. Installing a shallow-loop geothermal field was practical because of the site’s very high year-round water table –when geothermal piping is in saturated soil heat transfer is particularly effective. The building also exceeds typical insulation levels by 200% since the client had access to extra-thick insulation, re-used from another project.
All of this project’s materials are robust. Exterior walls are untreated concrete; soffits and decks are lined with unstained cedar, and infill wall panels are made with Corten steel. This project has a clear logic, where weighty materials support lighter ones. All of the heavy cast-in-place concrete walls that contain interior spaces have sandwich-panel construction, filled with insulation for acoustic and thermal protection. A lighter glulam beam roof structure is above this concrete, providing shading and protection from the weather in the concrete wall’s gaps. By design, passing trains cannot be heard or felt inside the Ha-Ha house, creating a calm rural sanctuary that reflects the clients, their sheep, and the idyllic valley setting.