Excerpt: Book

When Henry David Thoreau took to the woods in 1845 to begin his Walden experiment, it was more of an exercise in social deprivation than an outright attempt to recharge his creative batteries. But his flight from civilization does prove that he — and all the generations of writers and makers who have flocked to sylvan retreats for productivity’s sake — felt every bit as besieged by the distractions of modern life as we do nearly two centuries later. Paging through Arcadia (Gestalten, 2009), a catalog of contemporary architectural hideaways built among trees and mountains, all I could think about was how powerful a tool nature has always been in creative life: We need to be immersed in culture to inform the things we create, but we also desperately need escape to give our minds the space to process it. And so I cherry-picked all of the book’s contemplative views as a reminder of how many great works, past and present, were probably dependent on surroundings like these.

Of course, in this case the views all happen to be framed by amazing architecture, which is precisely the point Arcadia‘s co-editor Robert Klanten makes in the book’s introduction: Nature frees our minds, but as we search for that release, we see no reason to let go of the confines of our constructed lives. Even Thoreau’s rustic shack, Klanten writes, “was by no means the puritanical refuge it was later made out to be: Not averse to heat or good cooking, Thoreau enjoyed frequent meals at his friends’ country house and resided more or less at the edge of town, just out of sight from the nearest dwelling. This principle — temporary, voluntary seclusion, but not complete withdrawal — has never lost its seductive pull. Thoreau’s quest for a brief escape and temporary retreat, for a time-out from his modern and mundane existence, touches on a universal desire.”

Excerpted from Arcadia: Cross-Country Style Architecture and Design. Copyright 2009 by the authors and reprinted with permission from Gestalten.Arcadia_ADB








Haus in ¯vre Gla, Schweden





Archipelago House by Tham and Videgard Hansson Arkitekter (Husarö, Sweden) "Conceived as a lightweight construction in wood and glass, this summerhouse is built on Stockholm’s outer archipelago. The robust horizontal character of the black stained exterior corresponds to reflections of the Baltic Sea."


Holiday House on the Rigi by Andreas Fuhrimann and Gabrielle Hächler (Scheidegg, Switzerland) "On top of a concrete cellar on a sloping terrain, the wooden building is reminiscent of a ship. On the ground floor is a large living room spread over two different levels and with different ceiling heights. The deliberately low area containing the kitchen creates a feeling like that generated in the low parlors in mountain huts. The 5-meter-long panorama window frames the view like a picture."


Holiday House on the Rigi "The building was arranged so that the distance to the neighboring houses was as large as possible."


Summerhouse Inside-Out by Reiulf Ramstad Architects (Hvaler Islands, Norway) "The house is on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, in the midst of an uncultivated landscape on a small peninsula. It provides a feeling of being outdoors when inside."


Gudbrandsjuvet Landscape Hotel by Jensen and Skodvin Arkitektkontor AS (Burtigard, Gudbrandsjuvet, Norway) "Each room of this hotel is a detached independent house with one to two of the walls constructed in glass. The landscape in which these rooms are placed is spectacularly beautiful and varied and the topography allows a layout where no room looks at another."


Gudbrandsjuvet Landscape Hotel "Every room gets its own view of a dramatic piece of landscape, always changing with the weather, the time of day, and the season."


Lookout Station by Baumraum (Seeboden, Austria) "The clients wanted to create a special sleeping and play area for their children and eight grandchildren. Inside a treehouse tower perched on a slope above the town of Seeboden, there are windows on all sides. One’s eye is immediately capitvated by the view at the end of the large reclining area, where one can see the surrounding villages and mountains."


Dragspelhuset At Övre Gla by 24h Architecture (Glaskogen nature reserve, Sweden) "A retractable extension to a cabin from the 1800s. During the summer, it can be lengthened out from the original structure. During the winter the cabin is a cocoon, compact with a double skin against the cold. Its walls are covered in reindeer hides, turning the living area into a sensuous fur cave."


Dragspelhuset At Övre Gla "Traditional roofing materials common in Sweden many years ago were used in a modern way. The amorphous structure with the hornlike chimney and the undulating lines of cedar shingle lends the building a reptilian appearance. In time the wood will have a grey appearance, blending in with the rocky forest landscape."


Casa Binimelis-Barahona by Polidura-Talhouk Architects (Chicureo, Colina, Chile) "The lot for this home was triangular, and the legally allowed construction area was in the center, on a steep incline of 40 percent. The lower volume is buried in the terrain, blending in with the landscape. This view is from the upper volume."


Alpine Ensemble by Devanthéry & Lamunière Architects (Valais, Switzerland) "A barn and stable high in the mountains, facing La Dent Blanche. In the winter there is snow and the dangers of avalanches."


Alpine Ensemble "The stone walls for the stable and the timber of the barn are combined, one above the other, anchored in the hillside."


Hardanger Cabin by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen (Hardanger, Norway) "The diminutive blond-wood summer house, with its wide-screen, high-definition glazing and its feeling of being tucked into a handsome shelf, is uncompromising, original, and respectful of the landscape."