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Peter Zumthor completes Devon countryside villa "in the tradition of Andrea Palladio"


Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has completed his Secular Retreat – a Living Architecture holiday home designed to celebrate the landscape like the villas of his hero, Andrea Palladio.

The house, which has been more than 10 years in the making, is Zumthor's first permanent building in the UK. It is located on a hilltop in South Devon, England, where it commands an impressive view of the surrounding countryside.

Zumthor designed the house to be built from concrete rammed by hand – a technique that gives stripes to the walls, both inside and out.

The thickness of this material is revealed by the large, deep window openings, designed to take full advantage of the setting.

"I would like to say I'm building here in the tradition of Andreo Palladio," said Zumthor during a tour of the building.

"I don't want to compare myself with this Renaissance architect, who has always been a favourite of mine, but what he did was build villas for the summertime."

Zumthor said his aim was to emulate "the incredible presence of materials, and the beautiful command of space, light and shadow" of Palladio's designs.

"I think it is beautiful if you can make a strong building that helps you, not which oppresses you," he said.

Secular Retreat is the seventh house built for Living Architecture, a property rental company set up by writer Alain de Botton to offer people the opportunity to rent a house designed by a renowned architect.

One reason for the long delay is the level of detail and craftsmanship that went into the building.

The rammed concrete walls had to be created in layers – each line marks a day's work – while the limestone floors were designed in a bespoke pattern, tailored exactly to suit the dimensions of every slab that came from the quarry. Every broken slab resulted in a rework.

"I have this concept – I produce originals," Zumthor told Dezeen. "My work is always my work, it is not the work of my collaborators. I am not a trademark, I always produce an original."

The layout of the house is very simple, all organised on one storey. There are two wings – one containing two bedrooms, the other containing three – and each bedroom has its own en-suite bathroom.

Where the two wings meet is a generous living space, including a bespoke kitchen, a lounge area surrounding a fireplace, plus a couple of quiet seating areas where occupants can enjoy solitary activities like reading or listening to music.

Almost all of the furniture was designed by Zumthor, including the wooden dining table, seating upholstered in purple fabric and camel-hued leather, and the small pink stools in the bedrooms.

Overhead, the concrete roof sits appears to hover just above the concrete columns, raised by a concealed steel structure within. Its surface is coloured by the wooden formwork that the concrete was cast against – an effect that Zumthor said he hated initially, but has grown to love.

"You have a central communal space under a big roof, and you have five bedrooms each with their own bath," said the architect. "So in the back it is like a hotel, and here it's all together, you cook, you do everything together."

Zumthor famously keeps his studio small and turns down many commissions offered to him. He rarely builds single houses – most of his previous projects are public buildings, such as the Therme Vals spa in Switzerland, the Zinc Mine Museum in Norway and the Brother Klaus Field Chapel in Germany.

He said he couldn't resist this opportunity to build on this site. "It's easy to build a nice house here," he said.

The building sits on the site of a demolished house from the 1940s. A few details from the old property remain – a hexagonal patio beyond the kitchen, and a set of Monterey pine trees that are now 20 metres tall.

But Zumthor claims his house will age much better than its predecessor: "This building frames view and celebrates the place, the old building did not."

The house will be available for short-term lets later this year.

The architect is also hoping to convince Living Architecture to change the name, from Secular Retreat to Chivelstone House. "I would prefer it!" he said.

Photography is by Jack Hobhouse.

Architect: Atelier Peter Zumthor
Project team: Peter Zumthor, Rainer Weitschies, Pascal Berchtold, Tom Tsapkov, Anna Page
Executive architect (phase 1): Mole Architects
Local architectural advisor (concept phase): David Sheppard Architects
Construction management: Simon Cannon
Structural engineer: Jane Wernick Associates
Quantity surveyor: KM Dimensions
Environmental design engineers: Transsolar and Integration UK
Landscape design and consultant: The Rathbone Partnership


Caribbean holiday home by Rick Joy allows coastal breezes to pass through


Concrete forms and outdoor passageways define this waterfront dwelling in the Turks and Caicos islands, which was designed by US studio Rick Joy Architects to embrace the natural landscape.

The project called Le Cabanon is located in the southwest part of Providenciales, an island in the Turks and Caicos archipelago.

Designed to offer privacy and serenity, the family vacation home embraces its natural setting, which features verdant native plants and jagged ironshore rock.

"On approach from the adjacent road, the multipartite complex appears to organically grow out of the site's natural coastline, its subtly textured eggshell concrete contrasting the bright turquoise water in the same way as the white sand that lines the shallow inlet," said Rick Joy Architects, which is based in Tucson, Arizona.

Stretched across the waterfront site, the low-slung home consists of distinct concretevolumes separated by open-air passages, which allow coastal breezes to pass through the complex while also acting as framing devices.

"From the corridors, the concrete walls create shallow view-angles that reveal glimpses of each subsequent space and simultaneously frame the sky above," said the team.

Private functions are found in the front of the home, while the gathering areas are situated in the rear overlooking the water. Sometimes fishermen pull up to property's wooden docks, "offering the day's catch", the team described.

The front portion of the dwelling consists of a long, slender bar with a flat roof. Punctured with only a few tiny windows, the street-facing elevation blocks out movement and noise.

"The strategy works," said the studio. "From the interior, the spaces feel secluded and protected, and the ocean views from the kitchen pavilion seem entirely exclusive."

In the rear, a pavilion-like block houses an open-plan kitchen, living room and dining area. Rectangular in plan, this area is topped with an asymmetric single-hip roof sheathed in wooden shingles. An aperture in the roof assists with ventilation and cooling.

"A single operable triangular window at its leeward tip creates gentle airflow, supplementing the deliberately designed cross-breezes that negate the need for air conditioning," said the team.

The pavilion has retractable glass walls that help eliminate the division between inside and out. On the northwest side, the room connects to a sheltered patio, a generous terrace and a narrow swimming pool.

"Just outside, a shallow pool cuts a line between the sand and the adjoining terrace, bringing the expanse of ocean water ever closer to the living spaces," said the team.

Inside, the home features rooms with concrete walls and flooring, and minimal decor. In one bedroom, dark wood was used for the ceiling and for a built-in storage unit and desk

"Mahogany doors, windows and ceilings capture the warmth of the surroundings," said the team. "Natural linen curtains billow in the ocean breeze and let through just the right amount of sunlight."

Sustainability was a concern for the design team. The home was constructed by local builders and entailed the use of local materials, including sand, which minimised the need for imported labour and materials.

"In a similar resource-conscious spirit, the architects placed a large cistern beneath the main terrace to harvest water and topped the flat sections of the roof with photovoltaic panels," said the team.

Other projects in the Caribbean islands include an off-the-grid guesthouse designed by architect John Hix, which features six apartments stacked in pairs of rectangular concrete blocks.

Photography is by Joe Fletcher.