Architects sometimes dream of buildings that are simply unique. If they also manage to meet increased sustainability requirements, the results may look like the island retreat created by New Zealand's Fearon Hay Architects (photo).

The complex on Waiheke Island near Auckland actually consists of three freestanding structures and a raised pool which are grouped around a central courtyard. The buildings made of rough concrete rest in a saddle that protects them from the wind, yet gives them a glorious view of Hauraki Gulf through huge, movable glass walls. Living, sleeping and working each have their separate zones. While the buildings look cool and rough-hewn, the interiors are quite the opposite: open fireplaces, leather sofas, oiled-wood floors and linen fabrics in warm colors emit an inviting atmosphere. What makes the island retreat so surprising is the way it fits into its natural surroundings and how green it is. A kind of tarpaulin on the roof collects rainwater. The thick walls provide protection from the sometimes rough weather and store heat. A solar panel system supplies the complex with electricity, and wastewater is treated on the property.

Why must houses have corners? Married couple Keisuke and Ryoko Masuda, both architects (Atelier Masuda) asked themselves the same questions and came up with something round in the form of their Rokushomaki House (photo).

The sophisticated wooden structure with its black gable and roof terrace stands out clearly, but not annoyingly, from its neighborhood of uniform single-family residences. Only a few pieces furnish the interior: Beds and closets look like they were cut out from the white-painted wooden walls. With their three-story Rokushomaki House in Kawaguchi, which reminds some critics of a wine cork or a lighthouse, the architects have managed to create an imaginative and ecologically sustainable building made of recyclable materials. The interior of the structure, which is a little less than seven meter across, shines with sophisticated geometry and surprising ideas as well. From the dining room, the residents can see the sky through an opening in the beamed ceiling. The circular stairs follow the curvature of the cylinder-shaped house, which is eight meters tall. The bathroom on the top floor opens up to the roof terrace. Weather permitting, the window can be fully opened to turn the bathtub into a small pool.

The design of the Bahia House in Brazil's Salvador de Bahia was determined by the area's climate. It is largely open to the outside to provide cooling air circulation. It is arranged around a quiet courtyard with two mango trees providing additional shade. In its layout and materials, the Bahia House follows regional traditions,

which ensure that the building is environmentally optimized without the latest technologies, "green" software, technical complexity and difficult calculations. The building's layout is in line with the steady breezes blowing from the northeast – a principle that works even for a structure as large as the 700-square-meter Bahia House.

The Bahia House is a successful example of how a hundreds of years of experience from local builders can be used to keep buildings cool even when temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade. Houses in Bahia traditionally feature tiled roofs and wooden ceilings. Movable wooden screens structure the interior space, but let the air circulate. These mashrabiyas, or wooden latticework screens, came originally from the Arab world and found their way to Brazil through Portugal.

For the interior furnishings, the architects of Studio MK27 selected a mix of Brazilian modernism by Sérgio Rodrigues and Carlos Motta with individual pieces from the colonial era and objects from contemporary designers. For example, the pendants above the large dining table (photo) were designed by Tom Dixon.

The view from the living room of the Shark Alley House (photo) on New Zealand's Great Barrier Island is overwhelming. The small island, which is also called Aotea in the Maori language, is located 56 miles northeast of Auckland and home to only 900 people – with no power and water utilities.

The owners of the house, which was also designed by Fearon Hay Architects, can reach their residence high above the coast via serpentine roads only with a four-track vehicle, and only by crossing an inlet when the tide is low. The "L"-shaped plan of the Shark Alley House seeks to provide protection from the weather by leaning against the hill, while on the other side being open towards the sea through large glass panels.

When the large glass doors are pushed aside in the summer (photo), the structure looks more like an open pavilion than a solid house. When the wind blows from the sea and the windows have to be closed, the residents can find shelter in an interior courtyard located between the hill and the house. Being located on a barren, lonely island, the Shark Alley House must be totally self-sustaining. Power is being generated with solar panels that are hidden in shrubbery on the mountain-facing side.

Wastewater is routed to a biological processing cycle, and rainwater is collected on the roof and stored in large tanks.

Peter Würth

Island Retreat
Bahia House
Rokushomaki House
Shark Alley House

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