Designing Homes for Steep Sites

So you want to live on the side of a hill?  Maybe it’s for the ocean views, maybe it’s for the breezes or maybe it’s so you can be king of the castle. Whatever the reason, the decision and all facets that come after it should not be taken lightly. As all the flat blocks are getting used up on there’s a lot of steep land on the Gold Coast especially around the areas of Currumbin, Currumbin Valley, Burleigh Heads, Tugun and Coolangatta.

There’s quite a lot involved from the initial design to the eventual house warming party, ie extra council requirements and height limits, soil stability issues, driveway and council crossover issues, extra expenses, excavation, potential rock or boulders, trees, stepped floor levels, stairs, possible lifts, retaining walls and the list goes on. Sounds like fun hey!

There’s a few steps that need to be taken care of first, before any lines are drawn to ensure a smooth design process for your steep block:

1/. You need a Site Stability Report. Some sites are unstable and will not support a house at all. Don’t laugh, I have had a client come to me after purchasing his land, we suggested he get a stability test as the site was so steep and looked moist, it turned out he couldn’t build a house on it, landslip area, you can imagine what happened after that…

2/. Next, a Contour Survey – no quality building designer or architect will start designing without a good contour survey from a licensed surveyor. The designer needs to study the land thoroughly. This is usually organised by the architect / building designer.

3/. If you haven’t done so already, choose your House Designer. Not just any old Drafty or Architect, but someone with a proven track record of designing buildings on steep sites.  Also refer our free guide re choosing a designer available on our website.

4/. Next, the Designer MUST visit the site to get a good feel for the land. They may spend a few hours there and will often start sketching on site. They take photos and also film the land so they can refer back to it during the design process at the office. It’s good to study where the best views are but also any obstructions and services, driveways, gullies, natural attributes and they need to allow for the neighbours and your privacy.

5/. Once all the information is gathered about the site and councils legal requirements the contour survey is converted to CAD format and then they should make a 3D model replica of the land. (See 3D image).  Building Designers have their own methods and processes. I am merely describing what I feel is a good base process to start with.  Check your chosen designer has 3D capability.  In this day and age if they don’t have 3D then you are missing out on awesome technology advantages and you must ask yourself and the designer why?

Then the designer will copy this land model and place it above at the relevant council’s height restriction, this helps with making sure that they know exactly when they’ve hit the mark that may trip extra council approvals and relaxations i.e. Impact Assessment, which can be expensive.

Of course you can push the design as hard as you like within reason and going Impact Assessment isn’t as hard as some people make out. If you are pushing the boundaries and council restrictions then the DA presentation needs to be top shelf with proper renderings.

6/. Going back a few steps – several cross sections through the site need to be drawn to study it and understand it further (minimum 3 – 4). This helps avoid expensive retaining walls and excavations or other hidden surprises.  Once you know exactly what the land is doing its time to start sketching. Of course you have already given your brief to the designer by this time and they know exactly what you want to achieve on the site.

You or the designer need to draw council setbacks from the boundary, the driveway slope if there is an existing driveway and some approximate floor heights.  ie maybe a set of lines 3m apart showing possible floor levels.

7/. It helps to locate the garage first. Sometimes a site screams out for the garage to be in a certain position, but an intuitive designer will step back and think again. This happened with our recent award winner “Curves”. The obvious place for the garage was right in front of the council crossover. But there was a lack of street side parking and there was a small flat area for the garage on the south side of the block. So it turned out that we created a longer driveway running across the block (more parking space) and placed the pool where the garage was going to go.

This informed the rest of the design and the first of 3 curves, the curved concrete swimming pool with glass edge. The rest is history, and we now have very happy clients (see testimonial below) an Award, a very happy builder and an individual affordable house that all involved are proud of.

“We recently purchased a unique property on the Gold Coast. In order for this property to fulfil its true potential requires the vision and creativity of Will Collins. Will was easily able to take our ideas from an initial meeting and in no time deliver the home from our imaginations into working drawings. Will was the perfect blend of visionary and professional to give our ideas some life. We are not the only ones who think Will Collins is the best at what he does, our new home received the prestigious BDAQ Gold Coast Renovation of 2015. Will has designed our family the perfect home!”