Architects rarely lack creativity, but they frequently lack the freedom to explore it. Clients have preferences and there are often building restrictions in place, which inevitably force architects to compromise on their vision.
But what if those limits were removed? In the daring “Solo Houses” experiment, French developer Christian Bourdais has given ten architects carte blanche to develop vacation homes in southern Catalonia, Spain. Set on the border of the Los Puertos de Beceite nature reserve, these homes don’t resemble typical real estate projects, but rather works of art.
Grab your checkbooks. Each of these stunning properties, including Casa Faustino above, is up for sale. Potential buyers can admire the properties during open days on Dec. 17 and 18.
French-Portuguese architect Didier Faustino is known for subversive works and experimental installations. That is evident in Casa Faustino. In the CGI rendering it looks like an Art Deco space ship that has crashed in the forest.
Large apertures inside the house offer views of the surroundings, and draw light into the center.
Casa Pezo, the first house to be built, has already been sold. Inside the highly symmetrical structure a series of elevated rooms overlook an open-air courtyard with swimming pool. The wrap-around balcony consists of 16 columns.
Mauricio Pezo, whose practice is located in Chile, says the idea of architectural freedom is more theoretical than practical. Natural limits restrict design, even when clients do not. “In the case of our Solo house, both the natural conditions of the location—the landscape, the climate—and the informal and relaxed lifestyle were fundamental to define the character of the new place.”
Clean lines and rectilinear contours characterize the pool, which offers views of the verdant landscape. “This Solo experiment is in between art and architecture,” Pezo says. “It might sound pretentious but, as an intention, this initiative is an optimistic attempt at somehow stating a confidence in the power of pure architecture.”
From a distance Casa Fujimoto looks like it was constructed from match sticks. It’s not far from the truth. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto surrounded a glass structure with tree trunks arranged in a latticework. The intention is to let the breeze circulate freely while filtering light.
Fujimoto has said the house is meant to provide protection while remaining widely open. It’s an “elemental return to basics,” albeit one with far more style than your typical wilderness lodge. Consider it a haute tree house.
Brussels-based architects Kersten Geers and David Van Severen drew on their natural surroundings for Casa Office KGDVS. “The site gave us immediately the design: while we walked on the edge of ‘our’ plateau to embrace it and enjoy its spectacular views, the trail we made became the Solo House,” Geers says.
“A circular perimeter was the result. It gave us a size and a shape. You could say that this was the most creative and the most limiting moment combined at the same time.”
Van Severen says the glass walls minimize the barrier between the home’s interior and exterior.
“Life in a weekend house is something very romantic,” he says. “It is not immediately about comfort, but maybe more about bare essence. The stunning nature of the place and the fact of the ‘off-grid’ condition of each Solo House brings things back to basics. This is what we liked as a start. You don’t need lots of extras.”
American architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee considered a guest’s physical approach as they drove along the edge of the Los Puertos de Beceite nature reserve for their Casa Johnston Marklee.
“The power of the site became the main source in imposing constraints and demands on the project,” says Johnston. “Responding to the panoramic landscape of the mountain range and the situation of the almond tree grove became the primary design criteria that resulted in a round-shaped house that rises above the canopies of the trees.”
A rooftop terrace has two perks: a swimming pool and a panoramic view.
According to Lee, it’s not just about relaxation. As he says: “Once we had decided on an elevated round-shaped plan to capture the panoramic view, we worked on reinforcing and articulating the initial decisions, such as having a small footprint on the ground or having an outdoor jacuzzi room on the roof to exacerbate the contrast with the larger main floor sandwiched in between.”
New York-based architects Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS Architects hoped that their geometric Casa Mos, which is spread among overgrown vegetation, would give the sense of a modern ruin. The villa consists of five structures, each shaped like an upside down T.
“A sixth is inverted and has been embedded in the ground, becoming a pool,” says Meredith. “We are interested in a play between the towers as individual objects and as a group of things, the materiality of rough concrete offering an abstract tectonic scalelessness. It presents an image of a ruin, scattered rough concrete towers casually strewn within the landscape.”
“It was very important to think about the house as a place where someone would come to escape the city and live in nature,” Sample says. ” A series of fragmented views occur informally within the more intimate spaces, in a play of foreground, middle-ground and background, with a roof garden offering an expansive view of the mountains.”
They were also interested in living in nature, as opposed to merely observing it. “Since the project had to exist entirely off-the-grid, we worked with technologically passive systems, including solar chimneys for cooling and thick concrete walls as thermal mass,” Sample says. “Square glass windows from floor to ceiling allow for ambient light during the day and views at night for stargazing. Architecture should be both serious and playful working between the visceral and the physical.”
Inside the dining room and kitchen are both linked with the living room and bedrooms. Sliding doors can be removed to form a completely open space.
“A house is much more a home than a piece of sculpture solely to be looked at,” Lee says. “Therefore issues such as habitability and comfort should not be compromised. In the end the success and viability of the house depends on it being a delight to live in. The fact that it begins to approximate art is a bonus.”
Faustino says the wooden floors bring weightlessness to the structure. Angular walls and ceilings disturb traditional notions of up, down, left, and right.