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Gravity-Defying Dream House: Now for Rent

The first of Alain de Botton’s much-ballyhooed Living Architecture houses opens for business.

Gravity-Defying Dream House: Now for Rent

Last year, we brought you news of Living Architecture, the lofty-minded non-profit aimed at bringing starchitect-designed holiday rentals to the masses (or at least the masses who can afford it). Now, the first of the houses is complete: a barn that seems to thumb its nose at gravity, by Dutch provocateurs MVRDV, with interiors by Jurgen Bey’s Studio Makkink & Bey BV.

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The Balancing Barn in picturesque Suffolk, England, hangs clear off a steep slope, as if, Wizard of Oz-like, it’d been thrown by a twister and somehow managed to avoid total destruction, but just barely. Literally half the building juts out into the air, sans foundation. How it keeps from toppling over: The cantilever’s weight is counter-balanced by a 400-millimeter-thick reinforced concrete slab and footing.

Indoors, the space is littered with furniture by star Dutch designers like Hella Jongerius, Christien Meindertsma, Ineke Hans, and Gerrit Rietveld. Here in the living room, Studio Makkink & Bey BV have turned a painting by the vaunted 18th-century artist Thomas Gainsborough — who called Suffolk home — into a pixelated abstraction. Below’s a glass floor that gives a frightening view onto the ground many, many feet below, like a glass bottom boat except you see other rich people instead of manatees.

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Living Architecture is the idea of architecture enthusiast/ near-beer intellectual Alain de Botton. Its mission is to let people who don’t have the means for their own starchitect homes experience modern buildings in the most powerful way possible: by sleeping in them. The non-profit has commissioned five houses in the English countryside so far. Two are nearly done: The Dune House by Norway’s Jarmund/Vigsnæs; and the Shingle House, by Scotland’s Nord. The other two, the Long House by British modernists Michael and Patty Hopkins and the Secular Retreat by Swiss Pritzker Prize-winner Peter Zumthor, are scheduled for completion next year. Prices vary, but to rent the Balancing Barn, for instance, for five days over Christmas, it’ll cost you more than $4,000. (The house is set up for two people, but can accommodate eight.)

Are high-design digs in the middle of nowhere the new luxury villa in St. Barts? A couple months back, we reported on the opening of ultra-modern treehouses in the forested no-man’s land of Harads, Sweden. The marquee rental, a cube-shaped mirror skewered on a tree, clocked in at $575 a night. Living Architecture deals in similar currency: architectural gee-whiz that taps into a moneyed class’s newfound yen for both design and adventure. Apparently, Zumthor was the only one who questioned whether the project was worthwhile. But as the U.K. Guardian reports: “The beauty of the site persuaded him.”

[Images courtesy of MVRDV and Living Architecture]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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