Over the past seven years, at our creative agency, Access, we have worked with a number of residential and commercial property developers from Abu Dhabi to Sydney, helping them with development and strategy.
Yet we see so often the sad sight of yet another mediocre building going up. We see city councils approving mediocre design and we see cities looking uglier because of it. We see property developers rushing to get their building up, wanting to make a quick sale and profit, and not really caring or thinking about the aesthetics of the building.
Does the building enhance the surrounding area or make it worse? Will the building still look great 10, 15 or 20 years from now? Will it become an iconic landmark and a beloved site, or will it become a dated gimmick?
What will the resale value be down the track? Will anyone want to live in or buy property like it?
Property developers — and city councils — need to wake up and realize their influence on the cityscape and take that role seriously. This is the case not just for residential development — the same applies to office buildings, hotels and all public buildings in general.
As a developer and as a city council, do you want to be known as an organization that values and understands design and creates iconic developments? Or will you be known as the ones who created eyesores, or worse, caused a devaluation of an entire area or neighborhood?
The aesthetic of a building should be the Number One priority. There is not much point in creating and promoting beautiful interiors when the exterior tells a different story. The whole building should tell a cohesive story.
So many developers do not see the value, or even think about the aesthetics of the car park, for example. Would it hurt to splash some colour and graphic design on the concrete? Would it hurt to make the lifts and foyer more like those of a great hotel and less like a jail or a warehouse?
What amenities does the building provide? Is there a café, a library, a car wash? Engage us and wow us to the point that we cannot wait to sign on the bottom line! Excite us enough that when you go to market, so much buzz has been created that the units sell in 24 hours and at the price you asked for.
If a building is desirable and unique, and offers something truly beautiful, trust us, consumers WILL buy. It’s a no brainer, yet so many buildings keep going up that do the absolute minimum. They may tick off a few boxes and get the interior right, but not the rest. It’s not enough.
Every day, I am inundated with material from PR people and developers about new projects. Literally hundreds of submissions a day. So, over the past seven years, I have seen everything. And believe me, so have consumers.
Your potential buyers, the couples and the mums and dads and even grandparents are design conscious these days. The internet has opened everyone’s eyes to what is possible. People browse sites all over the globe, they learn, they engage in design. Design is no longer a closed shop. It is everyone’s.
Kids growing up now understand that design plays a crucial role in everything they consume, from the car they buy to the clothes they wear, to the headphones they listen to, to the cookware they cook, to the hotels they stay.
My advice to developers and city councils: Save yourself a lot of money, time and headache, and get it right the first time! Take design seriously now and you will be glad you did. - Bill Tikos
Wirra Willa is a tiny, tranquil pavilion located in Somersby, NSW, Australia, on an 80-acre property that formerly operated as a citrus fruit orchard.
Designed by architect Matthew Woodward for his father, the pavilion is only 72 square meters (775 sq.ft) in size and it is surrounded by a 36 square meter (387 sq.ft) courtyard.
The villa complements the existing larger residence on the remote property and provides a special, separate place for reflection and rest. It can also be used as a self-contained guest house.
The architect’s inspiration was the Fansworth House designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1951. Just as Mies’s famous dwelling appears to be floating above the landscape, Woodward’s pavilion seems to float on the lily pond, creating a scene straight from a Monet painting.
Achieving the appearance of effortless floating became a particularly challenging aspect of this project. To gain the approvals of the local council, the building had to be raised twice during the building process.
The area is flood-prone and the finished floor level had to be half-a-meter above the “1 in 100 year” flood level although there is a dam with two overflow spill ways. In spite of the two forced raises, the structure has retained its feel of floating and the residents can still enjoy the sensation of walking on water.
Our eyes were drawn initially to the clean lines and basic materials - steel, concrete, glass, sandstone – with wood the dominant feature. Complexity is easy, but elegant, functional minimalism requires restraint and tact, both evident in this lovely villa.
We can imagine – and envy – the guests loving the relaxed, cool feeling of waking up in this pavilion, with the warm morning breeze gently shifting the white drapes. - Tuija Seipell
At first glance, the K House designed by Sydney-based Chenchow Little appears slightly dark and brooding. No windows or inviting embellishments, only angular planes of concrete and wooden slats.
But as soon as we see the view from the garden, the dwelling starts to appear like a protective burrow, a safe hideaway, an intriguing living space.
And when we later read about the clients’ brief, we knew the architects had achieved exactly what the client – a privacy-conscious family of two adults and two children – had wished for.
The house is located on the edge of Sydney Harbour (Vaucluse) overlooking the city skyline and the Harbour bridge. The northern edge – and the sun bathed side - of the site faces a public pedestrian walkway. To provide extreme privacy yet allow maximum sun exposure and openness to the views and the rear garden, the architects created a protective masonry shell and built an internal lining of untreated gum timber that will weather over time.
The internal views are light-filled and airy with none of the darkness or broodiness of the first-impression.
The total floor area of the residence (including decks) is 533 square meters (5.735 sq. ft). The site area is 788 square meters (8,250 sq.ft).
In their 10 years in business, Chenchow Little founders, Australians Tony Chenchow and Stephanie Little have become known for bold and distinctive residential projects. They are becoming one of our favorites, too. - Tuija Seipell
Balance. So difficult achieve as it requires the designer, architect and owner to know just where to stop – what is just enough but not too stark; what is just perfect for the building, for the space and most important, for the residents.
Andy Martin Architects has succeeded in balancing the angular and the circular forms beautifully in this large five-bedroom double-fronted mews residence, Mews 04, in London's Hyde Park.
The biggest alteration Martin competed for this residence was to replace the timber-framed faux Victorian-style conservator form the 80s with a beautiful three-waved, sine-curved glass structure.
The form language of this new conservatory was then elegantly repeated throughout the house allowing maximum natural light into each space and fitting the client’s existing furnishings in with the new and customized pieces.
Bronze, marble and oak are materials that fit perfectly with the classical styling of the residents’ original pieces.
From the rounded topiary at the entrance to the curved marble bath tub, the beautiful curved form brings sophisticated harmony to the entire residence. - Tuija Seipell.
We are scratching our heads, searching for new words to describe the attraction we have for buildings such as the Limantos residence by Fernanda Marques Arquitetos Associados.
The one-family residence of 820 square meters (8,826 sq.ft) is built on three levels on a steep 780 square-meter (8,395 sq.ft.) plot in the upscale neighbourhood of Cidade Jardim (Garden City) in the West Zone of São Paulo, Brazil.
What is it that so appeals to us in this? Yes, it is the clean, classic lines, the Miesian harmony between nature and the indoors, the understated elegance of less is more.
It is also the achievement of open-space opulence without pretentious pomposity. It is the complete lack of unnecessary ornamentation. Balance. Harmony. Air to breathe.
Maybe it is that the building just seems to belong. Like waves on the beach or mountains in the skyline, the building occupies its space as if it were meant to be there.
To avoid sounding overly pompous ourselves, let’s just say that we wouldn’t mind living in this house.
The house consists of 13 rooms: living, dining, kitchen, mezzanine, kids’ playroom, three bedroom suites, powder room, two staff suites, plus laundry and garage.
The family engaged Fernanda Marques to create a home – both the architecture and interior are by Marques - that functions well as an everyday residence for the active family, but also lends itself to frequent entertaining.
Marques achieved a beautiful balance between maximum transparency and privacy, and managed to insert the building into a challenging plot while preserving the existing trees.
Using glass, concrete and steel, Marques created a timeless house in the spirit of Mies van der Rohe who was the architect’s inspiration for this project.
The elegant, white spiral staircase, resembling the inside of a shell or a curled strip of paper, is our favourite detail of this beautiful house. - Tuija Seipell.
This is what we call breathing room! A room in which one can breathe. Where the sea breeze moves freely. Where the scent of the ocean is ever-present. And the best part? It is not in a deserted island far, far away, but in an urban setting.
This 300-plus year-old house is located in the ancient port city of Jaffa, the oldest part of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality in Israel.
The gorgeous renovation is by the Tel Aviv-based Pitsou Kedem Architects, already well known for their minimalist approach to architecture and design.
The single owner of the house asked the designers to maximize the sea view while keeping the historical feel of the building intact. The project team - Pitsou Kedem, Irene Goldberg and Raz Melamed - has achieved this beautifully.
The residence consists of a 100 square meter (1,076 sq.ft) living area (living, dining and kitchen) plus an additional 80 square meters (861 sq.ft) that includes the master bed room, a study and a guest room.
Our main attraction points in this cool sanctuary are the gorgeous arches, the exposed texture of the old stone, the subdued colour pattern, and the lovely balance between the old and the new. It looks so easy and natural, but it is very tough to achieve such poise.
There is an overall sense of peace and harmony that is a luxury in itself. Breathtakingly lovely. We are seriously envious of the owner. Tuija Seipell
Design team: pitsou kedem, Irene Goldberg, Raz Melamed
Photographer: Amit Geron
We are quite easily charmed. Or, perhaps more truthfully: When certain elements exist we are highly likely to take a second look.
Give us beautiful use of wood, minimalist approach, classic lines, incorporation of nature in design, and we are intrigued.
And, if you can add that elusive ‘something,’ that special stroke of genius that makes your design unique, delightful, quirky, even weird, and we will really take a really good look.
The Tree Snake House in Pedra Salgadas by Luís Rebelo de Andrade and Tiago Rebelo de Andrade fits the bill perfectly.
The Lisbon-based architect duo has worked in the spa town of Pedras Salgadas in northern Portugal for some time, creating an Eco-Resort in the park. The resort huts are little eco-lodges made of modular systems and built on stilts.
The two Tree Snake Houses have many of the same characteristics and the architects worked with the Modular System Company to come up with innovative ways to create the feel of a tree house.
Each Tree Snake House has a studio, a bathroom and a kitchen.
The architects are working on additional versions of the Tree Snake House for different environments and climates, including mountainside, riverbank, urban and sand. They expect those to be available to purchase to the general public.
So, we suggest you start saving up for your own Snake House now. We certainly have been snake-charmed and can picture our office in one of them one day! - Tuija Seipell
Photographer: Ricardo Oliveira Alves for TCH
See also Treelife by TCH
Imagine the renovation dilemmas. A huge penthouse of a converted 1930s office building in TriBeCa, New York, is to be turned into a functioning home for a family with three teenagers.
In fact, we can not quite imagine the issues that faced Steven Harris Architects when the family showed up, literally, at the doorstep of the celebrated architect and asked if he’d like to work on their home. Harris said yes and proceeded to make his magic.
The scale of the apartment is huge and the freedom from budget constraints allowed for some spectacular solutions.
Harris’s work is often distinguished by clarity and light, by the use of glass, by the maximization of views and, above all, bold solutions. All of those are evident in this project.
What emerged as a result of the TriBeCa Penthouse project, is a multi-level (27th and 28th floors) nearly 8,000 square-foot (743 square meter) family-friendly residence that includes self-contained guest quarters and a new glass-and-teak-beam rooftop pavilion that functions as a recreation room.
The most frequently used areas of the apartment – kitchen, master bedroom, rooftop gym, even the laundry room – have the best views, including those of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and many of the city’s significant landmarks.
The double-height living area on the lower floor boasts an 18-foot high window with the view of the Woolworth Building. The room gained its height by necessity because adding the rooftop pavilion took the condominium conversion over its allowable floor area ratio. The team solved this problem by cutting off part of the lower-level ceiling, thus creating the double-height living area.
Harris’s team replaced the existing 70 double-hung windows with single-panel tilt-and-turn versions, and used glass in dividers and doors where-ever possible. The window panes were limited to 61⁄2 by 91⁄2 feet in size because of the size of the building’s freight elevator.
Early on, when the owners and architect realized they were looking at a substantially dramatic remodeling but the owners did not want to move out of the building, the family bought a couple of other apartments in the same building for temporary residence – and had them renovated before move-in, too. Those two apartments are now for sale.
One of our favourites in this apartment are the stairs. They are made of ¾-inch-thick steel plates wrapped in leather. The stairs appear to float in space and take up almost no visual room yet they are also stunning eye-catchers. Stairway to heaven, indeed, or at least toward it. - Tuija Seipell.
Project architect: Eliot Lee
Photograpy: Scott Frances/OTTO
It helps to have a strong understanding of dramatic interiors when tackling the potentially intimidating task of restoring a massive, 17th century Amsterdam canal residence AND re-imagining it as a functioning modern residence for a busy, fun- and art-loving four-member family.
Interior architects Sigrid van Kleef (38) and René van der Leest (40) of Amsterdam’s Studio R U I M had what it took to strike that seemingly impossible balance: Their background in theatre and opera set and costume design, as well as in restoration and interior design of contemporary homes.
Their priority was to respect and celebrate the heritage and character of the Herengracht canal house built originally in 1666 for a successful Amsterdam merchant, Abraham Muyssart.
Equally important was to not make the residence feel like a museum but instead, allow it to express the current residents’ own lifestyle and interests, of which photography was a significant one.
The resulting 400 square-meter home includes three living rooms, five bedrooms, two kitchens, two bathrooms and a 200 square meter garden.
One of our favorite features is the massive, black ornamental steel frame in the living room ceiling. It speaks the visual language of centuries-old mouldings yet makes a bold contemporary statement and creates a lovely contrast to the daintier visual elements in the space.
We love the use of wood: panelling, staircases, exposed in ceilings and in framing. The kitchen is a particularly cool combination of traditional and modern. The walls are dominated by vast restored paintings depicting views of the river Vecht and framed in their original wood frames.
Countering this are the super-modern counters, bench and especially the custom-designed (by Studio RUIM) industrial-scale copper light fixtures.
All this juxtaposing is a demanding balancing act but RUIM has managed to tie it all together with a bold sense of drama, yet they have also induced a feeling of fun, lightness, serenity and comfort avoiding the trying-too-hard, melodramatic solutions that would have been easier and predictable. - Tuija Seipell.
Photography: Daniel Nicolas
Not only is this Bernardo Bader designed private home beautiful and elegant in its deceptive simplicity, it is also a great example of how to use resources to their fullest. Haus am Moor is a private residence with an attached studio, located in Krumbach area of Lower Austria.
For some of us, the exterior of the house brings back images of Scandinavian barns in their hulking, windowless, untreated beauty that weathers perfectly in the harsh climate till the barns appear to be part of the landscape.
Bader took some of his cues from the traditional stone-and-wood –structured Bregenzerwald house that also speak a minimalist visual language and use local materials beautifully.
For Haus am Moor Bader and his team used a concrete core and wood from the owner’s own forest. Every part of the the 60 spruce, fir and elm trees was used to construct walls, floors, ceilings, doors and furniture. During the construction, the building team unearthed clay in the depth of one meter. This clay was pressed to form bricks that were air dried on-site and used for the floor structure under the wood slats.
The house is heated with the central wood-burning hearth, and with geothermal heat pump.
Of course, we love the overall minimalist approach evident throughout the house both inside and out. But what we love specifically is the way daylight plays among the wooden slats, and the way the lit windows glow at night. Beautiful. Tuija Seipell