The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews
The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, BBC Two
The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, BBC Two
Intrepid presenters seek out amazing architecture at the ends of the earth
This was the first of four programmes looking at houses made of extraordinary materials in various environments, some extreme. We began with "Mountain", and further explorations are promised to "Coast", "Forest" and "Underground". The presenters were a contrasting pair: the rake-thin and wiry architect Piers Taylor, and actress and property developer Caroline Quentin, both at ease conversationally to the camera and with each other.
Caroline Q was the surrogate viewer connecting to us. She nearly toppled over as she explored the potential frisson of the instability of a fragment of the wing of a dismantled Boeing 747 which provided a terrace for the 747 Wing House in the Santa Monica mountains, and an irresistible bounce for our intrepid presenters. The stepping stone external stairs by which the Tucson Mountain Retreat house was reached were yet another challenge, as was the cable car ride – Ms Quentin does not care for heights – to the House on the Rigi (the Swiss mountain much immortalised by Turner a century ago, his dream-like watercolours on view at Tate Britain) some 1650 metres above sea level (pictured below: Quentin draws the landscape at the Rigi House).
In the midst of a welter of surprised exclamations and a plethora of superlatives, Taylor explained with nifty computer graphics the siting, floor plans, orientation and natural light of the houses so we kind of knew where we were. To say these houses were challenging was an understatement, and all owners confessed that their ambitions had led to major overspend.
What we witnessed here in the main was people getting away from their daily lives, and in so doing providing us too with temporary escapism as we journeyed from California to Arizona, South Island New Zealand to the Swiss Alps. None of the quartet of houses in the first programme were or had been full-time habitats for their owners. They were holiday houses or retreats, except for the 747 Wing House which was a full-time retirement retreat. Each was also distinguished by the sheer difficulty of finding the site, building the house and even just getting to it.
The House on the Rigi, built by AFGH architects for themselves, turned out to be a rather wonderful wooden hexagon, a two-storey structure which was actually prefabricated and helicoptered in, and anchored by a deep concrete foundation, built in a day. Fifteen minutes by cable car from the nearest town, it also seemed to be part of a cluster of more conventional and typical Swiss chalets. How they got the furniture up and did the shopping was unexplained, but we saw how the House on the Rigi had views that seemingly floated above the clouds which graced the Alpine summits.
The owner of the 747 Wing House had spent 15 years looking for the site in the Santa Monica mountains, spent $50,000 on tail fins and wings – we saw the aeroplane graveyard whence the material came – and built the house looking out to the California hills north of LA. It was feared that pilots might mistake the house for a downed plane, so 17 government agencies had to give permission. Her obvious financial success had come from being a Mercedes-Benz dealer, but she lived in a house that looked as though it could fly away.
Outside Tucson, Arizona, a couple, both doctors, had built their desert retreat complete with rammed-earth brick walls, literally embraced by Piers Taylor as he almost swooned at their beauty. They overspent so much on their eco-friendly dream that they did not move in for a year. And their architects who knew how to embrace the desert in an environmentally friendly way (disturbing cacti is outlawed) were neatly named DUST.
In New Zealand, the weather conditions and access for building high above the water were so difficult that the house, two pavilions inspired by origami shapes, took three years to complete in a mélange of materials including ceramic window frames, wooden external cladding, internal concrete walls and cedar staircases. For miles there was no building to be seen, and the house had to be as invisible as possible (Te Kaitaka house, pictured above).
What came across was the almost unbelievable obsession and determination that brought these unique houses into being. An oddity was the similarity of the relatively austere interiors, all with their recognisably modernist furniture, a curious conformity within totally individual homes. Cosy they were not. The owners had made their lives in cities, and what they wanted were dream houses with endless views, houses to be looked out of, as far removed in feeling from urban life as possible. It was our enthusiastic commentators, Messrs Quentin and Taylor, who kept us grounded.
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