In 2015 the client commissioned Studio Hillier to help find a suitable home site along the Delaware River in Bucks County. The working couple with two school-age children were looking to fulfill their dream of living on the water and leaving the noise of the city behind. They settled on a property where a three-story, 1930’s-era cottage stood facing the river. The seven-plus-acre site lies flat and is bordered by the river to the southeast and the Delaware Canal to the northwest.
Due to flooding along the Delaware over the last fifteen years, a building moratorium had been put in place and new construction would require multiple variances, but there was another solution: a new structure would be permitted providing it conformed to the existing building footprint of 900 square feet, on the ground level.
As a result, the entire residence, supported by three 14-foot high Vierendeel trusses, is lifted above the flood level and cantilevered over a concrete pedestal occupying the footprint of the original cottage. This poured concrete base contains a garage for three cars and a two-story high entrance foyer with a view out to the river. In the event of a flood, vents open to allow water to pass through these spaces.
The house above has panoramic views of the riverscape from two entertainment decks and through full height windows from the kitchen/great room and the master bedroom suite with two bathrooms. Spaces on the back of the house, including three other bedrooms, an exercise room, and a teenager “hangout” room, enjoy framed views into the surrounding woods.
Conceived as a floating box alongside the Delaware River, the house experiences radical fluctuations in its environment in tandem with the river’s ever-changing microclimate. Unique combinations of air temperature, water temperature, humidity, wind speed, and daylight create a fluid dialogue between the home and its surroundings. Spring mornings, for example, tend to be clear with bright, warm daylight while fall mornings are usually foggy with cooler-toned light. However, daily and hourly changes in the river allow occupants to experience a myriad of its conditions.
Subtle, Sophisticated Materials
Exterior materials include exposed structural steel, cast-in-place concrete, and insulated metal panels with a perforated stainless-steel screen, while interior finishes, such as porcelain floor tiles and Mozambique Rosewood doors/casework, add warmth and creates a cozy atmosphere. Ipe decking and cable railings complete the entertainment decks. The exterior’s industrial materials and neutral color palette allow the home to seamlessly blend into the fluvial landscape.
Perhaps the biggest success for the client and the surrounding community is the project’s relative lack of impact on its surrounding environment, as approved by the National Park Service. All trees and plantings on the site were preserved and zoning dictated there would be no disturbance to the soil beyond the original cottage’s footprint, not even for columns or piles. Furthermore, the architect had to prove that the new home would not block view corridors to the river any more than the original three-story cottage. The result is a home nestled into its lush surroundings with an intimate connection to the riverscape.