Project: Summit Horizon Neighborhood
Architects: MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
Location: Wasatch Mountains, Utah, United States
Photo Credits: Doublespace Photography
Text by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects
It is an act of will to build a town on a 9,000 ft. mountaintop. This new town in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains will be a home base for Summit Series, an ambitious speaker program that attracts a community of innovators and social impact investors from a broad range of fields.
Close your eyes and imagine a neighborhood consisting of modest gable-roofed buildings, perched in the air on stilts, climbing up a steep south-facing mountainside, accessed by 40 ft. steel bridges to their upper floors, and densely aggregated around a series of courtyards. This memorable architectural vocabulary gives the Horizon Neighborhood a strong ‘Sense of Place.’
This is the first predesigned neighborhood to be built on Powder Mountain. It consists of 30 cabins which range in size from 1,000 to 2,500 square feet, a communal structure called the ‘Pioneer Cabin’ for the use of the homeowners, and a series of strategically placed garages. Buyers choose from among four cabin types, which either follow the contours like mountain goats, or are cross-grain, projecting off the mountainside, like extreme skiers. The cabins are then customized for individual owners. This theme and variation strategy, in combination with the dramatic topography, results in a neighborhood which has a powerful sense of both unity and variety.
The cabins are aggregated around courtyards in a way that maximizes a sense of both community and privacy. The journey from garages to the cabins is choreographed to foster chance meetings and social interaction. While passing between units or under bridges, like a game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’, views are framed to the magnificent surrounding mountain landscape. Privacy between the closely-sited homes is maintained by alternating solid walls and generous windows, and minimizing views from social to private spaces within.
The climate response begins with passive solar orientation, together with the use of thermal mass of concrete floors and hydronic in-floor heating. Diagonally braced steel bases in conjunction with strategically placed shear walls respond to the strong winds that can occur on the mountain. In response to the extremely high annual snowfall that gives Powder Mountain its name, cabins are accessed by second floor steel bridges. A series of protected courtyards create microclimates in an otherwise open, windswept landscape.
As the buildings step up the steep mountainside, each cabin favors dramatic southwest sunset views through the Ogden Pass to the Great Salt Lake Basin from its living level. The steel stilt foundations are intended to make the cabins light on the land. Entry bridges exploit the steep site topography to allow easy horizontal access to the upper floors. The dense neighborhood plan will ultimately allow the majority of Powder Mountain’s 11,500 acres to remain undeveloped, conserved for future generations.
The material palette of the Summit Horizon Neighborhood is derived from the simple cedar-clad barns in the Eden valley below. These simple cabins consist of cedar shingled roofs and vertical shiplap cedar walls. Aluminum-clad wood windows, and cedar interiors complete the monolithic, sculptural effect called ‘Heritage Modernism’ by the clients. MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple’s monumentally modest design stands in contrast to the excessive architecture now typical of resorts in the Mountain West.