Math professor Dr. James Stewart, who is also a former violinist with the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra near Toronto, Ontario, has made millions writing calculus textbooks. When he decided to spend most of his fortune on a residence, he could have used any architect anywhere in the world.
Instead of an international star, he selected the then-relatively unknown pair, Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe of Shim Sutcliffe to create his residence in a ravine in the posh Toronto neighborhood of Rosedale.
Stewart was not looking to build just a residence, though. He also wanted a private concert hall and lots of curves. Other than that, he gave the architects unprecedented and probably never-to-be-repeated freedom. No schedule, and no design restrictions.
A decade after the initial discussions with Shim and Sutcliffe, the $24 million US, 18,000-square-foot Integral House was completed. It does, indeed, have a multitude of seductive curves, massive amounts of floor to ceiling glass and a spectacular staircase. And, Dr. Stewart now gives concerts and throws parties and costume balls in his 150-seat concert hall.
The house exudes a patina, a classic semi-Scandinavian simplicity that makes it seem older, more established and mature than a brash, brand-new house. There’s a lovely sense of dynamism as well, as if the building were in motion, rolling along ever so slowly, or perhaps just coming to stillness after a long architectural journey.
The fantastic staircase is really a commissioned work of art, a collaboration between the architects, glass artist Mimi Gellman, and structural engineer David Bowick. It is constructed of hand-blown blue glass rectangles that are supported by cast bronze clips and stainless steel cables.
The house has already been on the Architectural Digest annual Toronto tour and it has become a part of the city’s must-see architecture. In a Wall Street Journal article, Glenn D. Lowry, director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, was quoted as saying: "I think it's one of the most important private houses built in North America in a long time. Tuija Seipell
We have all seen more than enough of the stacked-boxes genre of architecture. Boring, cold, uninviting, uninhabitable and so last decade.
Yet, once in a while, a set of images crosses our desks of a project that could potentially fall into the has-been category but doesn’t, and instead makes us look again and ponder the beauty of great architecture.
This is the case with Casa Fez, a new house in Porto, Portugal, designed by architect Álvaro Leite Siza Vieira. The architect calls it “the work of my life” as it is a residence he created for himself. “This project and everything behind it was a huge challenge,” he told TCH. “I needed a lot of willpower and courage -- even more than when I decided to become an architect. I try sew up objectives, interests and goals. I followed an ideal and I finally achieved my dream.”
From some angles, we see glimpses of Tomorrowland, but we are willing to overlook that because from so many other viewpoints, the statuesque poise of the structure and the stark clarity of lines brings back memories of Alvar Aalto. One can almost imagine this house in the birch forests of Finland.
With this residence, Álvaro Leite Siza Vieira aimed to “achieve a new kind of romanticism” and he continued this artistic thought throughout.
The architect started planning his dream house in 2004 and the construction was finally finished earlier this year. He did absolutely everything himself – not just planning, coordinating and supervising the construction but also creating the interiors and the tiniest of details, including the doors and doorknobs, hand rails, furnishings, lighting, furniture and even some paintings. Mixed with the new pieces are historical and timeless pieces inherited from the family and perfect for this environment.
Architect Álvaro Leite Siza Vieira, who was born in 1962 in Porto, graduated from the Faculty of Architecture in Escola do Porto in 1994. He has an impressive pedigree that includes touches of Finland, which perhaps explains the Aalto-like feel of this house.
He is the son of one of the best-known Portuguese architects, Álvaro Siza Vieira, winner of the 1992 Pritzker Prize and the 1988 Alvar Aalto Medal, among many other accolades.
Father and son collaborated in the creation of their competition entry for the Museum of Contemporary Art, KIASMA, in Helsinki in 1992 (won by American architect Steven Holl.)
The son Álvaro Leite Siza Vieira is best known for his Casa Tolo in northern Portugal, a residence that cascades down a steep hill like a clunky staircase fit for a giant.
For this latest residence, his own dream-come-true, he has conjured up a tranquil sense of sculptural beauty.
The white structure, sitting on a non-descript site, draws you inside where magnificent, bold ceiling details assist in creating a sense of wonder and interest.
Natural light, wooden floors, unadorned windows all add up to a simplicity that resembles a gallery, museum or concert hall.Casa Fez does not pretend to be a cozy home, but is instead a statement residence that fits the owner’s’ lifestyle – and is perfect for him. - Tuija Seipell.
This six-floor, 15,500-square-foot warehouse built in 1915 in TriBeCa does not match everyone’s idea of a perfect family home. Mixed Greens gallery owner Paige West, her husband and their three sons thought otherwise. They summoned their many-time design magician Ghislaine Viñas to create their most imaginative project yet while Peter Guthrie handled the renovation of the actual structure.
This is the kind of home where you imagine Willy Wonka to live, or some other out-there character who throws crazy dinner parties that are talked about months afterwards. West’s family occupies the top four floors that are capped by a green roof. The lower two levels are taken up by a guest duplex that is not your typical guest house either. It includes, among other surprises, a two-storey climbing wall.
The old frame has been restored in a subdued style leaving a suitable background a lots of room for the wild interiors. Most of the time, one is not quite sure what one is looking at. It is a delightful, colourful and slightly mad mix of styles, colours, art and props, reminding us of a few hotels - including Hotel Fox in Copenhagen - where each room is decorated by a different artist.
A chandelier made of ping-pong balls, a self portrait by chocolate artist Vik Muniz and a pair of sheep sculptures grazing on a fuzzy green carpet are just some of the crazy details in this home, that according to the designer and owners, was also designed to be easy to care for and live in for a family with young kids. One thing is certain; the kids will not describe their home as ordinary or boring. - Tuija Seipell.
A skillfully created illusion of scale and mass allows this large residence and office settle in its stark environment on the Swiss banks of Lake Geneva, off the Route de Lausanne.
Cape Town, South Africa-based SAOTA -- Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects designed this residence for a prestigious African client. The interior was created by SAOTA’s interior design and decor division, Antoni Associates. The project was completed in January 2010.
The demanding triangular, sloping site inspired a stunning design. The dramatic main house features rounded cubes and triangular masses that form an L-shaped living space. The impressive compound’s two buildings are linked underground by a spa, sauna, pool, garages, office and cinema. Jerusalem marble on all floors ties together the interior spaces while feature walls of marble, stainless steel and glass characterize specific rooms.
The sweeping and expansive interiors open up to a variety of outdoor spaces. Intimate and grand exist in harmony as both the interior and exterior exude calm and cool. There’s a sense of luxurious leisure and a connection between inside and outside that is part of the Afro-European aesthetic SAOTA understands so well.
SAOTA is a well-established architectural partnership of South African architects Stefan Antoni, Philip Olmesdahl and Greg Truen. Their international and local projects are characterized by understated luxury and airy clarity.
The company’s interior design arm, Antoni Associates, is led by Mark Rielly and Vanessa Weissenstein, and associates Ashleigh Gilmore and Jon Case. Antoni Associates creates exclusive interiors in South Africa and internationally in cities such as Paris, Moscow, London and Geneva. - Tuija Seipell
This may not be your idea of a home but it is bold and fun, and it has certainly attracted wide media attention. The 8,500 square-foot Casa Son Vida is a cooperation between three powerhouses: Luxury residential developer Cosmopolitan Estates, eclectic Dutch designer and founder of Mooi, Marcel Wanders,, and award-winning Los Angeles, Switzerland and Hong Kong-based tecARCHITECTURE.
Casa Son Vida is located in the Balearic Islands off Spain, on the Island of Mallorca, where humans have lived since 6000–4000 BC and where more recently, tourists have over-crowded every beach. But Casa Son Vida avoids the touristy kitsch and aims much higher. It is in the exclusive Son Vida community, just 15 minutes from the capital of Palma.
Casa Son Vida is in fact a reno of a 1960s Mediterranean villa, but it has been turned into an fantastic, sprawling luxury residence, designed to attract the young, discerning and bold, who are confident and design-savvy enough to know what they are looking at.
The handiwork of Marcel Wanders is evident everywhere in the Casa that looks a bit like an unruly movie set with its dino-bone exterior staircase, and various bits and pieces that remind you of Tomorrowland, Mickey Mouse, Finding Nemo and, of course, Alice in Wonderland.
With its retro synthetic vibe, the house clashes happily with its lush surroundings, but the interior, in its white-dominant serenity is much less startling, although fun and unexpected detail is found in every space. There is absolutely nothing ordinary in this house. Everything is customized, every aspect considered a million times. It is a great example or considered chaos.
This is the first of six villas planned for the Platinum Estates development by the just less than a year-old Cosmopolitan Estates. The eclectic plans for the remaining villas reveal a series of large residences, radically different from each other. Casa Son Vida is currently not for sale but the other five are. Dream on. Tuija Seipell
Vitra Haus, the new home of Vitra's Home Collection, has been covered widely by design media, and not in vain. It is a beautiful example of Jacques Herzog's and Pierre de Meuron's ability to take the ubiquitous stacked-houses concept and still make it look new, interesting and inviting.
Reaching five storeys in height and containing 12 separate houses, Vitra House is geared toward the general public, design-aware consumers who will appreciate the building as well as the Vitra products inside. The entire contraption appears both grandiose and intimate at the same time, with the gray exterior disguising the disheveled heap within the site, while the open glass-walled ends and stark, white interiors facilitate the presentation of residential-scale displays.
Vitra House is the latest addition to the ever-expanding Vitra Campus that started as an industrial park with the manufacturing facilities. Now the Vitra Design Museum--Frank Gehry's first European building opened in 1989 -- the Conference Pavilion by Tadao Ando (1993) and the Fire Station by Zaha Hadid (1993) already provide magnificent visual attraction. Vitra Haus and a new circular manufacturing facility by Kazuyo Sejima/SANAA are this year's entrants to the site.
Weil am Rhein is a German town and a community that is a suburb of the Swiss city of Basel in Switzerland. Weil am Rhein is located by the River Rhine, close to the meeting point of the Swiss, German and French borders. The Vitra Design Museum is the town's biggest draw.
The Basel-based architecture firm Herzog and Meuron was established in 1978 by Jacques Herzog (born 19 April 1950), and Pierre de Meuron (born 8 May 1950). It is known for many prominent international commissions, including the Beijing Olympics' "Bird's Nest." - Tuija Seipell
Casa no Geres, designed by Porto-based Correia/Ragazzi Aquitectos, has received its fair share of international awards and exposure, but we cannot help but show it off one more time. This is the first project by Gracia Correia and her new Italian partner, Roberto Ragazzi. It is a bold statement that hides nothing.
This is also a house that is easy to love from certain perspectives and from others; it looks quite unsuitable for its surroundings. From some angles, the house seems like an accident, some kind of a mishap with transportation containers and building materials. One part of the building is buried inside the hill while another sticks out over the river. It appears about to teeter off the hill at any moment, just waiting to land in its final resting place in the river.
The owners, Mica and Eduardo Pinto Ferreira, have been Correia's clients for more than a decade, and gave her carte blanche to create their dream house on the 5,000 square-meter site by the Cevado river - as long as no trees were cut and the 60 square-meter house (maximum allowed footprint for the site) was made of concrete. The house is located in Peneda-Geras National Park, along the Spanish border in northern Portugal, so the environment and its inviolability were crucial and the rules strict.
But looking out from the inside, the awesome beauty of the home becomes apparent. The simplicity of the structure, the openness of the views and the calm balance of the elements seems to speak the same language as the bleak surroundings. Nature has a way of being beautiful even when it is not, and this house knows that secret.
The warmth and proper scale of the building become even clearer when the illuminated house is viewed at night. It may look like it landed from some other planet, but it appears to be right at home now. - Tuija Seipell
A tactile sense of texture, a romantic play of light, and a reverence of natural beauty are all evident in this graceful, angular villa that seems monumental yet inviting. It brings up memories of hikes up a mountain on Crete where the white ruins of an ancient chapel cling onto the cliffs. But these ruins are on an entirely different island and they are brand new.
With its two main blocks at 90-degree angles, the Plus House appears from above to form an almost complete cross or a plus-sign. The opulent weekend villa juts out of a mountainside in a popular holiday area known for its hot springs, in Shizuoka Prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu.
The architects of this stunning beauty are husband and wife, Masahiro (36) and Mao (33) Harada, who founded Mount Fuji Architects Studio in 2004. Both are avid mountaineers — so much so that they named their company after the country’s highest and most admired mountain, also located in the Shizuoka Prefecture.
Plus House shows off their talents at being bold but not grandiose, and at involving the surrounding nature in delicate detail but without giving up the individuality and presence of the building.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the deceptively simple two-level concrete structure has private rooms and a bath on the lower level, and salon and kitchen on the upper. The water for the bedrooms and bath comes directly from a natural hot spring. The exterior is clad entirely in white water-polished marble with surface texture changing gradually toward the outer tips of the blocks from rough to mirror-smooth. The interior is also covered in white marble that reflects the blue light from the south (ocean) and green light from the west (forest). - Tuija Seipell
Architects Anton Žižek and Marjan Poboljšaj, both of whom graduated in 1997, are being noticed consistently at European events and competitions for their progressive design work — from interior design and furniture concepts to architecture. They are the founders of Superform, based in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
Recently, Superform created an interesting retreat for a private client by combining two existing buildings in the town of Ljubno ob Savinji, 70 kilometers from the capital.
The first house that resembles the traditional buildings of the valley is monolithic and introverted and contains the bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen. Its main materials are wood and stone.
Housing the living room, dining room and a large hall, the second house resembles a boat anchored in the green bay and is more extroverted, open an modern than the first. Its materials are glass, steel, Rheinzink and wood. The combined structure looks bold, yet agrees with its environment and looks entirely livable. Not an easy feat to achieve. - Tuija Seipell
On approach, the entrance looks like a cave formed by rendered concrete walls. Only the slight and irregular black window frame insertions appear to allow light into the house. But within, light falls through the double-story void from above in all directions.
Light cascades down oak and white plastered surfaces. It washes over limestone and marble, illuminating art, furniture and every handcrafted and natural surface throughout the house.
The focal point and central pivot of the house is a sculptural circular stair. This transitional element divides the entire double-storey spaces as it stretches out under a steep exterior site.
Curved surfaces play against rigid lines in a style that the architects describe as ‘archaic’ – an effortless blend of both the primitive and artistic. Materiality was the primary factor in the selection of timbers, stone and every other interior feature.
The house is sited south of the Yarra River in one of Melbourne’s many beautiful neighbourhoods. The team of architects won an Architecture Award for Interior Architecture at the 2009 Victorian Chapter Awards. - Andrew J Wiener
Painting on wall on image 3 is from artist Song Ling.
Photography - Peter Bennetts