In San Antonio, a fairly flat city just 772 feet above sea level, it comes with some surprise that some folks in the city and its immediate surrounding metro area do choose land to build a house on that is actually on a hilltop or hillside, if not a mountain top, a category used loosely here, for the nearest (literally) mountains are actually a fair distance north and west of the city. However, as you traverse the city, the surprise fades with the number of hill tops there really are. And, for that matter, how many houses do actually get built “on high,” generally no more than one or two per hilltop.
As I’ve wandered the city ‘lo these many years,’ often traveling west on IH-10 toward, are you ready for this, the Hill Country, I’ve wondered what type of person does actually live on a hill or mountain top. And in my eagerness to learn more about that person, I’ve gone so far as to consult with psychologist friends, or those in research, folks who could tell me whether there is something psychological at play here or whether there are research papers published about such subjects. Is it someone with a superiority complex or someone who just enjoys being apart from others? It turns out I was making molehills into mountains. As you’ll see below, having spoken on this subject with two couples and an individual who all live high up on a hill, it’s none of that. Rather, it is folks who enjoy seeing a beautiful sunrise or sunsets, want to get as far away from flooding as possible or just enjoy “being on top of things.”
Couple number one writes: “the children were leaving home. The neighborhood with their friends and the proximity of the school bus stop seemed less important. A development with acreage on the border of the Hill Country was just opening. I saw 2 lots that seemed possible. One, nestled in a quiet dip at the end of a short dead end had serene potential. A vision of a hillside covered with houses looking down on us, however, was a distinct future possibility. The other lot was on a hilltop looking north across tree-filled valleys. The lot included the down slope of the hill so no one could spoil the view. My wife and I were quite enchanted. Planning and building* our home took some years and we then moved in. Quiet, peace and serenity were now ours. We were 25 minutes from work. A breeze was common. Summer temperatures were typically 10 degrees cooler than in the city. Dining al fresco, especially in Spring and Fall, was a delight.”
Couple number two writes: “we have LOVED being high on our hillside. Not a person comes in the front door who does not utter “WOW” when they see our view from the windows in the great room. And we feel the same way as we watch the sunset, gathering storms, leaves change in the fall and new growth appear in the Spring. We almost always have a breeze on the back porch. And while it can be a bit cooler here then in downtown San Antonio in the winter, the height and air movement is actually a frost deterrent. It can be a bit cooler here in summer, also. This is always a good thing.”
Individual number one was quite succinct in his reply. “My wife insisted we buy the house. In the final analysis, I’m glad I did. I get no flooding on the hill top.”
As with most things in life, negative invariably shows its ugly face, even when there are mostly positives. However, in the case of the two couples, the negatives are only slightly so. Couple number one says “years have passed and San Antonio has extended its reach. The tree-filled valleys are filled with gray roofed houses. The 25 minutes now just gets us to the expressway. Our view of the distant hills and beautiful sunrises and sunsets remains untrammeled. Even when a long day means coming home well after dark, we look out into the night and the space is quite calming. We are so pleased we chose the lot on top of the mountain and aim to live here for as long as possible.”
And couple number two states: “We love the privacy the hillside affords us, and the total quiet in our backyard. We feel fortunate that a park/flood plain is directly behind us, while we see lots of houses now to the left and the right, we will always be secluded. “
Reminiscing About a House On A Hill by Architect Mac Chesney, AIA
The owners “engaged me” to be their Architect. Two wonderful people with sophisticated tastes. They took me out to see the site for our initial discovery for the project. I was, immediately thrilled about the house on the hill. It was just perfect for what I envisioned in my mind. The view to the north was just an incredible one and the north light would work perfectly. I had hoped to create a wonderful house for this family and just had to capture the inherent essence of the site.
As it turned out, the hilltop site was the sufficient influence on design and it all played out so well. I was very pleased with the results and it was just so natural and fit the site perfectly. All projects have contextural or physical influences, however none are more exciting than a house on a hill. Hilltop projects always involve taking advantage of the attributes of the site;, i.e. view and harmony with the environment and surroundings.