Blog - Providing Insight into Residential Architecture and Construction

The Benefits of Working With Natural Topography

NJ Architect house designOne of the most unique things about each and every property is the lot on which the building is set. It is rare to find lots with the same exact elevations, variations, etc. Architects must either work with or against the natural variations of the site to complete their project. As with any element of a project, of course the site can be changed to accommodate the structure being built; earth can be moved, slopes can be softened and ground can be flattened. This being said, there are many undeniable benefits to working with the natural topography of a tract of land.

Cost Savings

Should the owner and the architect choose to change the topography of the site to better accommodate a structure, there is significant cost involved. Both excavation and filling are expensive processes that also increase construction time. Additionally, altering the site can negatively affect runoff, erosion and other natural processes. While this is not a big deal up front, it can lead to costly repairs down the road. Though working with the slope of the land is sometimes difficult, it does reduce these overall costs.

Green Factors

Those homeowners that value green building practices appreciate the minimal impact that comes with working with existing elements on the tract. Building with the natural curvature of the land and around the natural features often allows for buildings with a more organic look. Additionally, situating the home a certain way on the lot has green impacts post-construction, such as the way natural light enters the home. When the topography of a lot is in question, this also impacts the landscaping features, such as trees. Mature trees on the lot provide shade and privacy, without the need to create these elements artificially.

Interesting Design Elements

By working with the layout of the land instead of against it, architects have the opportunity to introduce one-of-a-kind features. While the N.J. landscape does not include swampy areas that require the use of stilts or pillars, architects still have the opportunity to flex their design muscle in interesting ways. For example, when building a home on a highly sloped lot, there are opportunities for multi-level entry points, big-impact decks and porches and unique floor plans. On the other hand, flat lots provide the prospect of a solid foundation on which to build structures of various heights and styles. Slight variations in the elevation of the ground - some that are not even noticeable to the naked eye - often give just enough wiggle room for high visual impact.


Speaking of attention-grabbing architectural elements, one of our recent projects deals with the subject of topography beautifully. This home site is situated atop a steep hill, which presented a few challenges during the design process. To maximize the available square footage to the homeowners, we put the garage in the basement, carved into the hill. With the placement, the garage is hidden from the main view of the home and is instead accessed from the side of the lot. This gives the home an attractive, cohesive look without compromising an essential feature. Further, with the garage in the basement, the entire first floor of the home was opened up for living space. Making these simple, yet effective choices, allowed us to keep the existing curvature of the land and reduce the footprint of the building process.

NJ Architect house design

An architect's vast knowledge of best building practices in conjunction with a detailed site plan are the best weapons for a successful project, especially when interesting topological conditions are presented. While flat lots are easy to work with, do not be afraid to present a challenge. Your architect and his team have the know-how to construct your dream home, no matter what the lay of the land looks like.

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