How to Build on a Sloped Terrain? 5 Modern Residential Projects Shaped For Their Environments With Split-Level Exteriors

Sloped terrain offers a tantalizing prospect for developers. With breathtaking views over either natural or urban landscapes, often without the realistic possibility of being overlooked by future development, a parcel of land on a slope provides a high reward. However, whether it’s the extra excavation involved to cut and fill or cantilever out on a flat surface, the complications of water drainage, or the loss of light and difficulty of access at the front of the property, building on sloped terrains is not without its difficulties.

But it’s not necessarily the angle of the site that’s most at fault, it’s the shape of the building. By splitting up a multi-story structure and repositioning – possibly even disconnecting – each level, projects designed to comply with the existing topography by applying multiple ground levels can reduce the amount of excavation required. The split floor plan can also help to improve access and natural light and increase both interior and exterior space.

Meanwhile, by sacrificing some internal space, even projects built on flat sites can use the same technique of pushing back their higher layers to provide some of the features that come naturally to slope-built projects. With extended balcony terraces, even larger structures can offer more natural light, high-rise gardens, and a protected view. Here are five examples of projects built on sloped or flat sites that reposition levels freely.


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Exterior Steps Improve Access and Light With Gradual Cut and Fill

When choosing to build a vertically linear structure on a slope, a common practice is to cut away the earth at the slope side of the property and use it to raise the opposite side to a flat level – making it possible to build on – and add two retaining walls to hold the earth at both ends. However, after achieving this arrangement, ground-level road access now serves the building’s first floor with the space underneath effectively becoming underground and lacking sufficient natural light.

Featuring both horizontally and vertically panoramic views of the city beneath it from cross-sectioned glazing at its rear, natural light was a vital consideration to the owners of the T House in Los Angeles, California, US. To afford the front side of the home’s lower level with natural views and light as well, the project’s architects proposed a courtyard approach to the property that steps down the slope’s natural gradient.

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Multiple Single-Story Structures Connect to Multiply Roof Space

Instead of re-shaping a sloped terrain to hold one multiple-story structure, an alternative method of building on a slope is to split the levels themselves into multiple low-height structures with only a small crossover providing access from one to the other, like Sarah’s House in Corfu, Greece.

As well as increasing interior space by limiting the impact of staircase connections on each level’s floor plan, the technique also allows the exposed portion of a roof to include skylights, bringing natural light deeper into the underground section. At Sarah’s House, the additional roof area also provides the property with extra outdoor space for a wide terrace and infinity pool, above another guest terrace below.

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Fit Floor Plans to Softer Gradients by Separating Stories

While stepped-structure projects built on steep enough gradients like Sarah’s House can include crossover sections to connect their interiors, those built on more gradual slopes are unable to do so in a limited envelope. Although the terrain on the island of Syros in Greece is gradual, for example, the isolated location’s astounding views of the Mediterranean Sea are worthy of the additional effort to capture them.

The Viglostasi Residence manages it by positioning multiple independent structures at various points up and down the hillside, connecting them with covered or uncovered steps and walkways while also using the gradient to form multiple terraces, gardens, and patios – including a central plaza – for inhabitants of both the main holiday house and its separate guest suites to convene.

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Dealing With Flowing Water on a Sloping Site

Similar to the Viglostasi Residence above, Padvi the Verandah House in Baramati, India, uses multiple short sets of stairs to lower structures at multiple levels down a gentle slope. Unlike the Greek example, however, its location is susceptible to heavy rains and the formation of a natural water rivulet that runs down the hill during the wet season.

Instead of blocking and redirecting the water flow from the site, however, the architects chose to position the separate structures around the natural water lines, and then submerge an underground channel beneath the stairs in between. This encouraged the water to flow more naturally into a reservoir created by a retaining wall at the property’s lower end and for the resulting naturally occurring freshwater pool to be used as a water feature.

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Sloping Apartment Buildings Sacrifice Internal Volume for Exterior Space

One of the main drawbacks of highrise living is a lack of personal outdoor space. Balcony terraces are becoming a more expected inclusion in modern apartment buildings thanks to the rise in popularity of outdoor living. However, most apartment buildings are only able to offer a few square meters of balcony space. Anything deeper and the sun can’t reach it, blocked by another balcony above.

By stepping back its levels as it rises, the Nicolinehus Residential Complex in Aarhus, Denmark, sacrifices its total area and number of apartments to create over 20 large outdoor terraces per building. As if each apartment with a private terrace is built atop the sloping building itself, the extended terraces each provide unrestricted views over the city’s bay.

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Discover these project examples that split and shift their interior and exterior levels either to cope with sloping sites or create angled envelopes. These re-ordered structures bring higher landscape views, expand exterior spaces, and improve water, light, and access management.

Projects with Split-Level Exteriors:

t House / ANX / Aaron Neubert Architects

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Sarah’s House / The Manser Practice

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Viglostasi Residence / block722

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Padvi The Verandah House / PMA madhushala

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Nicolinehus Residential Complex / AART Architects

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The above projects can be found in the ArchDaily folder created by the author

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