Building houses around Ha-Ha walls and sloping sites

26 September 2023

Embracing the landscape with Ha Ha houses and sloping sites

Modern residential rural architecture sees architects embracing the natural topography more than ever within their designs. Building into a ‘Ha-Ha wall’ allows a dwelling to nestle seamlessly into its existing landscape.

What is a Ha-Ha wall? The term Ha-Ha (formerly known as “Ha-Haw wall” ) dates to the early 17th century where land was separated by physical yet discreet boundary walls. Typically associated with grand estates, Ha-ha walls consist of stone and were a highly effective way of preventing livestock from escaping.

Cotswolds sliding glass doors

Implementing a Ha-Ha wall into a house design Architectural designs can ‘fold in’ existing historical boundary walls on sloping sites enabling a dwelling to nestle naturally into its undulating sunken landscape often framing the best country views. Klas Hyllén Architecture designed a house and artist studio in rural Somerset using and repurposing a dilapidated three side stone Ha-Ha wall which surrounds the site (formerly part of the grounds of a Georgian rectory) to form an integral part of the design defining the boundaries between domestic and rural spaces.

Ha Ha House

Image credit: Klas Hyllén Architecture

Klas Hyllen, architect of award-winning Ha-Ha House, a camouflaged artist studio in a hill, situated in the Forest of Dean said “The clients brief was wanted a home as close to Passivhaus as possible that embeds itself sensitively into the landscapeWhen placing any building, and in particular a house, within a rural context it feels important to us to have a clear boundary between the domestic garden and the wider landscape. At Haha House we allowed the building forms to be the edge against the field, emerging from an existing haha wall, and with cows grazing just beyond the living room window. The haha walls and the building forms as such enclose, and define a courtyard garden which becomes the domestic landscape, clearly separated from the wider rural fields."

Ha Ha House absorbed into the landscape

The 'seemingly sunken' Ha Ha House had pockets of light penetrating the large single storey home through rooflights that were barely visible from street view. Grants Blinds was commissioned to design and install bespoke shading systems that did not interfere with the minimalist award-winning biophilic design. Discreet blind housing was made to match the glazing structure, and automation was integrated into the roller blinds of the windows offering protection from glare and solar gain.

Shading systems to fit bespoke glass at Ha Ha House

Homes ‘borrowing’ the landscape to form part of its integral back bone invariably offer insulation benefits, particularly earth sheltered and Ha-Ha homes typically found on sloping sites.  Building into a slope where the roof acts as a continuation of the land, and not a ‘living roof’ acts as super efficient insulation helping a building to maintain a consistent internal temperature all year round.  A Ha-Ha house with interlocking spaces is typically designed to incorporate the earth as a part of the roof, and have the external facades overlooking the landscape where the best views are found.  The envelope of the building’s same facades is frequently installed with thermally broken minimal framed glazing connecting the dwelling to its landscape, and completely immersing it with opening glass doors during fair climate conditions.

Ha-Ha walls can also be used to create a vertical separation for a seating area or sunken courtyard, a space protected from exposed harsh elements that could serve as a sun trap for its occupants to grow flowers, vegetables, or even provide a quiet space to absorb the sunshine or unwind. Since they are typically sunken into the landscape, they can rarely be seen from the surface level making them an unintrusive solution to applying boundaries. Dwellings with large footprints that are built in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty seeking to pass Paragraph 80 may consider using the existing landscape to sympathetically blend the building into the scene.  A Ha-Ha house or an earth sheltered home can provide a cost-effective and sustainable solution allowing the typological site to work for the dwelling.

Are you looking to build a new home or replacement dwelling on a sloping site?  Contact the friendly team at Sky House for all your timber, glazing and interior needs.

Watch the YouTube video of the Ha Ha House being described on Grand Designs


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