Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin explore extraordinary homes built in mountain locations around the world, meeting the owners and architects.
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I've been picked up from airports in taxis before but never had to go to a jetty to be picked up by a boat.
'He's Piers Taylor, an award-winning architect.'
This building is so tactile and just rich, materially.
'And she's Caroline Quentin,
'acclaimed actress and passionate property developer.'
Ah, I've been expecting you, Mr Bond!
'We've been given the keys to some of the most incredible houses in the world...'
It's chock full of surprises, isn't it?
'..to discover the design, innovation,
'passion and endurance needed to transform architectural vision
'into an extraordinary home.'
If this was Hollywood, I'd be snogging you now.
'Together, we'll be travelling the globe...'
-Oh, look down there!
-I would, but I'm trying not to kill us.
You look ahead.
'..meeting the architects and owners who have taken on the challenge of
'building unconventional homes in demanding locations.'
Just another day on the wing of a 747.
'Whether it's navigating the logistics of constructing a house on top of a
Why would you build a house where you can only get there by cable car?
'..negotiating the ancient trees of a fragile forest...'
You never see a building this close to the trees.
That's six inches away.
'..having a sea view whilst perched on the edge of a
'dramatic coastal shoreline...'
I'd love to know how you actually built this on what appears to be a sort
of vertical cliff face.
'..or excavating the earth to build a home deep underground.'
There is always a moment when you feel fear.
Nature is never to come back the same way.
No-one had ever built something like this before.
It's a tightrope you walk.
It can go spectacularly wrong.
Soaring high above sea level, remote mountain living offers peace,
tranquillity and stunning vistas.
You don't come across views like that more than once in a lifetime.
It is somewhere that, once seen, it would never be forgotten.
But building a home at altitude exposed to the elements,
often with no running water or even roads,
is an endurance test only the bravest take on.
How on earth did you get...
..this house up a mountain?
Piers and I will be travelling from the Southern Alps of New Zealand to
the peaks of the Swiss Alps.
This is a building that you need to be able to batten down the hatches of.
-It's an antidote as well to the frilly oompah houses all round, isn't it?
-Yeah, I think so.
And from the heat of the desert ranges of Arizona
to the coastal mountains of California...
..discovering what it takes to design,
build and live in the world's most extraordinary mountain homes.
At any point, did you think, I've made a terrible mistake here,
-I've employed a madman?
Did you? Did you?
-At which point?
-When it was too late.
The first stop on our mountainside adventure
takes us to the City of Angels.
But we're not here to see the sights.
Piers and I are leaving Downtown LA behind and winding high into the
Santa Monica Mountains,
where one home owner built her dream home from the most unthinkable reused
OK, hang on. Oh, no.
California, we're here.
Or over here?
You're looking at Arizona, aren't you?
The woman who owns this house and has built this house
spent years looking for the right plot of land.
-I mean, 15 years.
-But she did look all over the world.
All over the world, as long as it was within an hour of a city.
She obviously thinks she's found the place to be,
with views of the sea and the mountain.
-It's living the dream, isn't it?
-Living the dream.
The owner of our first mountainside retreat wanted a building with
feminine curves that would sit lightly on this coastal mountain range.
So her architect looked to the skies and found inspiration in the most
unlikely of places.
The house we're going to see is a proper statement.
It's a proper statement and, what's clever about it
is that it's crazy but it's still, I think,
architecturally really fascinating.
And when it comes to making a statement, it doesn't get any bigger than this.
# All the leaves are brown
# All the leaves are brown
# And the sky is grey... #
Built from the wings and tail fins of a disused Boeing 747,
this award-winning house is one of a kind.
# On a winter's day
# I'd be safe and warm... #
-There it is.
# If I was in LA
# If I was in LA
# California dreamin'
# California dreamin'... #
You've got to be happy with that.
-Let's have a look at this.
-I think we're here.
-Yeah. Are you impressed?
I think I'm awed by how beautiful it is being here.
-This is so quirky.
It's lovely seeing the wings against the sky, the thin edges.
-It's outrageous, actually.
-It is, it is.
So, how does an architect go about acquiring a disused Boeing 747?
Well, in the middle of the Californian desert, there's a graveyard of
Once her architect had convinced her, Francie,
a retired Mercedes-Benz dealer and the owner of this house,
spent less than 50,000 on a decommissioned Boeing 747.
Using precision laser technology,
the wings were then removed and used to create the roofs of this
I like being under the wing.
-I think it's really comforting.
It is like a bird's wing, in a way, isn't it?
This would also encourage the breeze across it.
You could open those windows at the back on a really hot day because
-aircraft wings are designed to bring air under them.
-So this would be naturally ventilated.
And actually, planes, remember, are the best engineered things in the world,
so everything is beautifully made, beautifully put together,
incredibly durable, the best materials.
I mean, architects are obsessed by nuts and bolts and fixings and how things
are made. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
But, at the same time, it looks quite home-made, doesn't it?
It does. All the little squares.
-What's the metal?
-So little squares of aluminium just sort of riveted together?
Yeah, well, it would have been patched, actually, and repaired over the years.
They were used for 40 years or something.
The concrete in this, and the metal, going up to the wing.
It does. I mean, it's designed so that the glass is the thing that, by and large,
touches it, so you always see the shape.
At ground level,
this eccentric building blends seamlessly into the mountainous landscape.
But, from the air, the shape of the wings is clearly visible.
There was a real risk that pilots could confuse it for a downed plane.
So the project had to be registered and cleared with 17 government
agencies, including Homeland Security.
I want to go on that wing now.
I think we should.
-I'm going to leap up.
Here we go. Just another day on the wing of a 747.
Just enjoying ourselves.
It's quite spectacular, isn't it?
I mean, this is incredible, really.
And actually... Oh, wow, it's quite bouncy here.
Piers, stop it!
We're going to have to get in sync.
With two wings, two tail fins and a 55-acre plot to play with,
the architect was able to create a main house and a guesthouse
for the owner.
The 747 wings are the perfect curvilinear design to float on top of the
two buildings to maximise the views while providing a roof which requires
minimal structural support.
Concrete rear supporting walls were built into the hillside and enclosed
with panoramic glass facades,
allowing light to enter the living spaces throughout the day.
The wings were then positioned on top of steel frame supports and secured
where the engines were previously mounted.
I love it outside but, Piers, let's go in.
-Let's go in!
Stepping inside this two-bedroom home,
you immediately get a sense of how effective the wings really are.
It's actually almost better inside
-cos its reads as an abstract bit of art up there.
That's a great view up there, isn't it?
-It's lovely, yeah. Lovely.
-Like a mini...
like a little mini invitation to go upstairs and see up there.
And there's more creative use of recycled plane parts.
This section of the fuselage has been turned into a hatch,
through from the study to the kitchen.
-It's nice from the back, isn't it?
Seeing all those rivets, and so on.
Heading upstairs takes you above the wing to the master bedroom.
-This is my best bit.
Well, you get a view, and the plane,
and you're right under these two tail fins.
-Look at this.
It's a set, isn't it, really?
-It's not actually real mountains.
It's a very well painted backdrop from a Hollywood movie.
It is, and looking out, and seeing the wing at the end,
it's so surreal, isn't it?
I don't think I'd ever tire of looking at those mountains.
-Hi, hi, hi!
-Lovely to meet you.
Lovely to meet you. Thank you so much.
After interviewing over a dozen architects,
the person Francie entrusted with building on her mountainside plot
was Californian architect, and now friend, David Hertz.
So you've been having some fun here.
Francie's brief was to create a tranquil eco-friendly home.
And the inspiration for the design came to David at 30,000 feet.
I was flying and I was looking out at the wing and thinking about
what to do to float a roof
and then it occurred to me why try to build a wing,
when you could appropriate a wing.
I wanted something that was feminine
and it seems that having a wing is not feminine at all.
However, once it's detached from the plane,
it becomes an entity unto itself
and there's beautiful curves to it.
They're very subtle.
It's a brave leap, though,
to have the idea but to actually in reality then say to someone,
"OK, David, go and bring those wings up the mountain."
At any point did you think, I've made a terrible mistake here,
I've employed a madman?
At which point?
Er, when it was too late!
The biggest challenge Francie and David had to face was transporting
the wings of the 747 on to the remote mountainside location,
1,000 feet above sea level.
The majority of the journey was by road,
which required a state patrolled escort
and the closure of five freeways.
But the roads to Francie's mountain retreat were too small for trucks,
so the final leg of the journey
had to be one of pure military precision.
One of the largest cargo-lifting helicopters in the world
was drafted in to airlift the wings up on to the mountain.
There was a lot of risk with the helicopter.
I mean, they made it very clear that if in any way
that it started to turn, or catch too much wind,
they were just going to drop it.
-They were going to drop it?
What was it like as it loomed across, hanging from a helicopter,
It was quite a challenge to realise that part of my budget would go
towards hiring a sky crane helicopter.
I was like, "Oh, my God!"
With all the unknowns, there was huge financial risk.
There was. It was a hell of a lot more than initially I was expecting.
No-one had ever built something like this before.
We are talking about millions of dollars, aren't we?
Millions and millions of dollars?
Let's just leave it at that.
There were a lot of surprises
that brought the cost to the point that it did.
I use the analogy, as when you're three-quarters of the way ready to give birth,
you can't turn back.
-You can't turn back and you just keep going.
I mean, it sounds exhausting, for everybody involved,
but is it worth it, Francie, to go through what you've gone through,
to live here?
Yes, it is.
It's a phenomenal environment.
It's so very, very beautiful
and every day is a complete and utter joy.
And I feel so lucky.
-It is lovely.
-We're not leaving!
That's why I have only one guest bedroom!
As the sun starts to drop behind the mountains,
what better way to enjoy the view than a sunset wing walk.
# Hey, sugar, take a walk on the wild side #
Thank you so much for the most extraordinary day.
It's been really wonderful.
A toast, if I may, to the wing house.
To the wing house!
I think what's really interesting is that despite it being quite a
sensible house in terms of how they describe it, actually,
it's really romantic.
It is, sort of dream come true.
-It is, it is.
-By the mountains.
The next stop on our architectural adventure
takes us 500 miles south-east
to the home of the old Wild West.
We've swapped the lush coastal mountains of California
for a rugged mountain range on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona.
It might look like a desert,
but we're 2,000 feet above sea level
and heading higher into the Tucson mountain range.
In this high-altitude environment,
temperatures can reach 100 degrees in summer
and plummet to freezing in winter.
So a house built in these mountains needs to be robust enough
to withstand the unforgiving local weather.
It's so hot, it's so dry.
Is your tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth?
Yeah. I mean, I'm really hot.
The owners of our next mountain home decided to build deep
into this arid mountain range.
And in order to deal with this extreme environment,
used a building technique that's as old as the hills.
It's very exciting, isn't it?
The mountains are really rugged.
-There's nothing here.
-No, that's just dry earth screed.
-A bit of scrub.
-The odd cowboy, the odd outlaw.
-It's getting a bit frightening.
SHE SINGS: "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" Theme
We're going straight to the mountain,
then we have to go straight up.
Piers and I will be spending the night in this remote mountain home,
to discover what it is about this location that made the owners
go to the effort of building here.
I cannot imagine choosing to build my dream home here in the mountains.
Maybe you're just too English.
For many people, this is super exotic and people fantasise about
escaping to the desert and all that fragile beauty.
-It's actually getting wilder now, isn't it?
I think we're here.
I've got a code for it.
Good. Let's get in. I'm so hot.
-I can see the building!
Now a wilderness full of coyotes and rattlesnakes might not be
everyone's cup of tea but homeowners and San Diego doctors
David and Karen chose not only to build their home
in this harsh location,
they also plan to retire to these hills.
I've got the key. I've got the key to our retreat.
Let's go. I want to get in!
-Look, look, look!
Check it out. It's the same colour as the earth!
-It's good-looking, isn't it?
-OK, OK, OK.
God, you're so impatient, honestly!
Look at that.
Isn't it wonderful, the way you could hardly see it?
-I love that. It disappears out of view.
Look at its setting.
I would have just had you walk through the desert.
But you can't, because of the scorpions and the rattlesnakes.
You've got to have a path.
I think we're being funnelled in to that point.
So good buildings, you know instinctively how to get in.
So I think THAT is the way in.
I don't think you're right.
The design for this award-winning house was heavily influenced
by the most important elements of this environment - the weather.
The structure was cleverly positioned on an east-west axis,
to minimise exposure from the hot sun whilst allowing light and air
to filter through the house.
The floor plan consists of two main areas for living and sleeping,
each of which opens out onto views of the landscape.
As the house was built on a single storey, and with no connecting
corridors, the only way to get between each room
is to step outside into the desert.
The whole design is tied together by this unusual,
scattered cube staircase.
Check these out. These are lovely.
It's quite graceful,
shallow, slow steps.
Yeah, OK. All right.
I mean, I can see they're beautiful.
I can see they're really architectural.
What do you mean by architectural?
Well, exactly... How dare I?
I can see they are quite beautiful.
They are interesting but I'm not sure, I mean, you know,...
Why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't you...
I suppose, what I feel is, you know, I'm in my mid-50s
and I'm not going to get any younger
-and this is tricky to navigate.
-Why? They're quite shallow.
-They're quite generous.
-They're quite big.
There are also places that would encourage you to sit.
All right, I know, yeah. I'm hearing you.
But the steps aren't the only design feature to
immediately capture our attention.
Oh, God. It is. I love that.
Do you know, rather tragically, Piers, can I tell you something?
Rather tragically, I've actually bought wallpaper like this
-for behind my bed.
-Fake charred wood.
-It's naff but I love it.
-This is real charred wood.
-I love the look of it.
-God, that's beautiful.
-He's very excited.
-Check it out!
-Yes, I'm checking.
It's lovely. It's lovely.
Right, here we go. Head up here.
-It leads you in, doesn't it? Beautifully.
-It does. I do see it.
God, this is lovely. Look at this.
This is a front door.
Here we go.
I'll give it a tug. Are you ready?
-That's quite a door.
-Oh, hang on.
-OK. Hang on.
-It's caught at the bottom.
This is actually fabulous looking, but quite irritating.
Here we go. Here we go. It's going. That's it. I think...
That is a beautiful door.
-God, it's nice.
-Wow, wow, wow!
-I really love that.
I hate ordinary doors.
I love it. It's great, isn't it?
-Isn't it beautiful?
Piers, it's so nice.
It's so nice. God, it's nice! God, it's nice!
God, it's nice.
Do you know what I really love about it?
You've got the desert and the mountains on either side and yet,
this house just enhances it and doesn't take away from it.
I think that's so wonderful.
Preserving the natural beauty of these mountains
was key to the design of this home.
The owners' desire was to embrace rather than exploit
this fragile landscape.
This is where the desert starts, here, you know.
I'm in the house, I'm in the desert.
Oh, it's beautiful, Piers.
Because it's so hot here, Piers, I mean,
I don't think I've ever been as hot as I am at this minute, actually.
But when this is open, presumably the breeze just canters through the house.
Yeah, right the way through. But, also, things like this,
so this is all about shade, so I guess this sun will never,
ever get to here, ever.
But it's not just the clever positioning of this house
that makes living in these extreme temperatures bearable.
The walls are made from rammed earth,
a building technique which has been used for centuries
as a way of naturally cooling houses.
A wooden framework is built on site,
then soil from the desert, combined with water and a small amount of
cement, is poured into the wooden moulds
and then rammed down to form a tightly packed
series of solid layers.
These high thermal mass walls absorb the heat during the day and release
it at night, reducing the need for air conditioning or heating.
It's always great to see how a building is made
and this is so legible.
I mean, you can see all the moulds,
see where the moulds were plugged in,
see the shape and depth of every lift of this rammed earth.
I think for many British people, this is a slightly strange building,
because it's so unlike the buildings that we know.
But the buildings that we know in England,
grew up out of a tradition of having parapets and roofs and gutters
to keep the rain away from the building,
and detail and ornament to add a certain kind of relief.
But here, this is a building that totally makes sense
for where it is.
It's a building that's really tuned to its climate.
It doesn't rain, so there's no need for any relief at all.
Any applied ornament would just be ridiculous, when actually,
this building is so tactile and...
Just rich, materially.
The two bedrooms Piers and I will be staying in
are to the left of the living area.
But with no connecting corridor, there's only one way to get to them.
This is form over function.
I don't care what he says.
This is just ludicrous.
Actually, this is too big a leap for me, this one, I think.
It's actually like the Giant's Causeway.
Unfortunately, I'm not a giant.
It's not like this house to have a stiff door, is it?
Overlooking the mountains,
this minimalist bedroom doesn't need any curtains
but luckily for us, owners Karen and David
have left us a gift.
If the moon is too bright,
please use the sleep mask.
It may seem a bit creepy, sleeping in a fishbowl,
but don't worry.
Nobody lives in the house up the hill!
That's so sweet, because it's meant to be really reassuring,
but it's actually made me really terrified!
I didn't even know there was a house on the top of the hill.
This is a truly stylish and beautiful bathroom.
This has been chosen, I mean, very, very carefully.
It's beautifully cut.
It's so well tiled, this room, it's unbelievable.
It's like glass.
And then it mirrors the colour from outside,
brings that landscape in and yet, I notice, if you want to,
you can open that window,
so you can be having a bath in the desert and the mountains.
You can't really get a better view than that.
As the sun starts to drop behind the mountains,
Piers and I get the chance to discover what it's really like
to live in this extraordinary environment.
I've got a little surprise for you.
Sounds ominous. Have you been hunting?
Yeah! I'm going to skin a rabbit for you, boy!
-I'll have my sandwich.
The owners built this home looking for an escape from their busy working lives.
And it's easy to see what's so attractive about this kind of
Not many buildings allow us to be this relaxed in it, this quickly.
I've lived in houses for years and felt less relaxed.
Me too, me too. Do you want another one of these?
Please. No, it does.
It really, it's very welcoming, very easy to use.
-Really easy to use.
This is their evening every day.
I mean, how extraordinary is that?
I've never been anywhere like this in my life. Have you?
It's so different, yet, it fits in so beautifully.
I love it and I think this is one of the finest houses
I've ever seen and I'm very excited about staying here.
Oh, God! It's so nice!
Ah, God, it's lovely!
After our first desert shower, we're meeting the owners, David and Karen,
to find out the challenges they faced building this mountain home.
Hello. How lovely to meet you.
-So lovely to meet you.
I feel like I know you already a bit because we've stayed in your house
-and I think it must...
-Hi, Karen, I'm Piers.
..have something of you about it, I feel.
David has had a lifelong connection with this mountainous desert
and 12 years ago, found this virgin plot of land on which to build
the house of his dreams.
So I have been in love with the desert, having grown up here.
And living in San Diego, I was driving back frequently
to see my parents and I was driving to the beautiful Sorrel preserve and I said, I need to get some land.
I visited a neighbour here, had dinner,
and he realised how passionately I was attached to this land.
He called me up one night and said, "Would you like to be my neighbour?"
So I said, "Yes.
"Is the lot as good as yours is?"
It's better. I said, "Fine, I'll be over to buy it."
That was Thursday night. I'll be over to buy it on Saturday.
David employed local architect Cade Hayes,
who is passionate about building houses which respect the natural environment.
It's a huge responsibility.
I mean, this being untouched, virgin landscape,
to put a building in here, that in theory, could spoil it.
I said, I really want to keep this land, sort of like we've dropped
the house down. I want it to fit perfectly into the land
and I thought he got that perfect.
Cade's plan took great care to cause minimal disruption to the fragile
ecosystem that exists here and, during the build,
only three cacti had to be moved.
Such is the importance of the natural vegetation,
that a fine is imposed if any cactus is removed
without carefully replanting it.
The construction people were very careful about the environment.
We tried to save every bit of native vegetation that we could.
It's a large structure but the desert all around you
is still very happy that you're there.
If I did anything right...
..finding a very...
A brilliant young architect and then letting him do what he does.
Whilst Piers is getting the lowdown from David,
I'm keen to find out from Karen
the true cost of building a home in the desert mountains.
I've renovated lots of houses with my husband and we've almost...
-With your husband?
-Well, you know, he...
Like you agreed, like, "Honey, let's do this together
"and we're going to agree on this?"
We decide we are going to do a project and then we fall out.
There are always things that drive me mad.
Have there been problems like that with you and David?
Well, there's a little pause of silence there,
because I had to compose myself a little bit.
The house was completed, I think, 2013 and at that point,
I stopped by to see it when it was all furnished and photographed
and it looked really beautiful and then we went home
and we kind of looked at the cheque book, and I went,
"Oh, my God! What did we do?"
So we didn't really come for a year. Then we finally had the energy...
You didn't come because you'd overspent?
We overspent. We just were exhausted.
I'm quite interested. That's a long time not to come to a house.
I was kind of thinking about killing my husband, but...
OK, so you weren't angry with the house, you were angry with David?
I was kind of, well, kind of angry in general.
Yeah, yeah. I get it. I get it.
I was going to kill him, but I needed... We were too much in debt,
so we needed him to be able to continue to work and I was thinking,
that it would also look better if I got the life insurance and then
-I killed him.
-And the house. It would look awful, wouldn't it?
-So you didn't come, then you decided you had to come back?
We just decided, OK, and we did it.
We're going to make it work. We're going to come back and enjoy it.
That was probably one of the low points of the house experience.
-Well, during the year we weren't coming,
the door was open about this wide, the lights were popping on and off,
the bugs were coming through the open door at night
to feast on the light,
and then there were some rodents that also found their way in
to enjoy the toilet water. They love it in here!
You have been through a lot.
It's cost you a lot of money. It's been quite a journey for you but
arriving here today, what do you feel when you see the house?
Do you have any fondness for it?
There are more ups than there are downs these days, which is really nice.
The house is understated.
It doesn't really...
It's not flashy. It's not trying to impress you with fancy ornateness, this and that.
It's just to blend in and be in harmony in this
incredibly harsh environment.
I think the beauty of the desert has just really,
really started to take hold of me.
Thank you so much for looking after us.
We have had the most wonderful time in your house.
-It's been great.
-It's been our great pleasure.
Bye, darlings. Bye-bye.
It's an amazing house, but I don't think it's been particularly easily won.
Do you think? I mean, cos David seems in love with it.
I think he is in love with it but I think that doesn't necessarily mean
-the journey's been easy for the whole family.
Do think it's been the problem child for them?
They've been through some stuff.
Our next house takes us to the other side of the world and to a country
famous for its rugged, mountain scenery.
We've landed in the South Island of New Zealand
and are heading to a home nestled in the wilderness,
half an hour's drive from the nearest town of Wanaka.
All my life, whenever people have spoken about the South Island,
they talk about it as sort of a bucket list place,
one of the most beautiful places in the world.
-And it is.
The clouds on the top of the mountains.
-And so little building, Piers, that's what I'm noticing.
This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is fiercely protected
by New Zealand planning laws.
So much so that any opportunities to build here are extremely rare.
But, 12 years ago, when a plot of land came up for sale,
home owners Mark and Susanna jumped at the chance to fulfil
their dream of living in this remote mountain range.
But the hurdle of securing the land was only half the battle.
They had to find an architect who would embrace the challenge of designing
them a home that will be camouflaged within their surroundings.
It's a lot to ask of an architect, isn't it?
To say, look, I've been in love with this thing for my whole life,
this has been a dream for me and then to say to them,
now create the perfect house for this environment that I adore.
But if they can't do that, then, no-one should be building.
People shouldn't be littering little houses in beautiful landscapes,
they really should be understanding how precious this is.
This landscape is so fragile,
once you've spoilt it, it's gone for good.
And we're here, we're here!
Wonderful, isn't it?
It's quite a subtle little thing, isn't it? Nestled down here.
Which I'm pleased about.
Because I was rather dreading it might be something rather big and ostentatious, but it isn't.
That roof absolutely follows the line of the mountains.
It's rather lovely, isn't it? It almost disappears, doesn't it?
Taking on the challenge of designing a building to fit within the
landscape, the architects took inspiration
from the triangulated geometry reflected by the mountains.
They combined that with the unusual sculptural forms found in origami
to create this truly unique structure.
That's extraordinary, isn't it?
It all kind of blends in, doesn't it?
The architects carefully selected building materials with colours and
textures which would disguise the house within its environment.
The wooden cedar cladding and concrete window frames
were inspired by the surrounding trees and mountains
to create a weathered camouflaged.
I mean, really beautiful.
Some of the nicest cladding I've seen, actually.
So not too much glass, then. That was a stipulation.
Not too much glass, no metal and the timber goes on the roof, as well.
It is a very low-lying building.
It probably is semi-invisible from a distance.
I imagine it's almost completely invisible.
I mean, it really does...
It's camouflaged absolutely into the landscape.
Right, here we are, through the church door.
This reminds me of Liverpool Cathedral, this door.
Inside, you truly get a sense that you're wrapped in a
three-dimensional origami structure.
There are unconventional angles almost everywhere you look.
As well as creating a beautiful internal space,
there's a real purpose to this innovative design.
The angled roof juts out of the ceiling, allowing light to enter the
building in a variety of ways.
Look at this.
Look at the sun now.
Here I am, right at the furthest point in the house from the light.
And the sun is flooding in across the cedar.
Look at it. It's beautiful.
It changes it.
-A lot, actually.
Not even subtly, the room changes quite dramatically.
Doesn't it? Because of the sunlight.
-It's lovely looking through into different spaces.
That cut-out upstairs.
I don't think there's any glass there, either.
I think that's just another portal, another way in.
Actually, you know what that's really about,
that is about getting that view when you're upstairs.
-Some view, isn't it, Piers?
This is my favourite type of building
that has daylight from the back,
sunlight from the back and view that way.
I really do feel protected from the drama and the weather
by this big cut-out.
This is a very cleverly constructed home built to protect its occupants
from the blistering heat in the summer,
and howling snowstorms in the winter.
It's no wonder this house is christened The Cloak,
or to give it its Maori name, Te Kaitaka.
I can see why this guy fell in love with this exact piece of land
because you don't come across views like that
more than once in a lifetime.
You would remember it, you would fall in love with it
and you would want to come back and stay and raise a family here,
which is what he's done.
It is somewhere that once seen it would never be forgotten.
I'll never forget it.
The peace is lovely.
-Here we are, love.
-Oh, God, shattered!
While Caroline takes in the mountain air,
I want to examine how this house pulls off the difficult trick
of bringing in light without relying on huge amounts of window space.
This is an extraordinary site but, in many ways,
it's quite a tricky site because the view is there
and the sun is there.
And, in this climate, you need the daytime sun
so the section is the thing that tells you all about this building.
What the section here is, is really just two beautiful pavilions,
one sitting above the other.
The problem with that is that the bedroom one is shielding
the living one.
All these architects have done is pick up a bit of roof, like this.
And what that does is allow the sunlight to enter
right the way into the heart of the house.
What they've done at the view side is make a shaded
veranda, really, to allow you to always see the view.
That shows that architecture isn't about making strange shapes
or trying to think of a concept,
it's just looking really hard at the view and daylight and then
making sense of it with a building.
This house gives up more and more of itself as you delve into it.
The internal use of concrete throughout creates a cave-like
and remarkably cosy feel.
This is a lovely room.
A little den, study, or something.
Little family room.
More of this lovely concrete.
I love the way you can see how the concrete was formed
in the planks of wood.
You still see the shape of it here.
It looks just great with the mountains.
This cedar staircase takes you up to the two master bedrooms, both with
spectacular mountain views.
There's no question that is the most beautiful view but, for me,
one of the most exciting things about this house is the story of it.
Mark saw this land as a young man
and he stuck with that dream
and he's managed to build his house, his dream house
right here looking at the view he's always adored.
And that must be the definition of a dream home.
Your dream come true.
The two architects who designed this house are based in Auckland
on the North Island.
Gary Lawson and Nicholas Stevens are award-winning architects.
How did you deal with the responsibility of building
in this extraordinary place?
I remember when we first came to the site,
we actually came out on a boat.
We saw this gorgeous landscape which reminded us of almost like fabric
draped over rocks.
In that, we saw an idea for the house.
In the mountains, you see triangles. You don't see perpendicular angles.
You don't see verticals and horizontals.
So, we wanted to architecturalise that kind of idea
and through origami is how we came to that.
And the interior, particularly, feels like the most exquisite bit of furniture,
which is crafted beautifully out of extraordinary materials.
Tell me a little bit about that.
Well, we wanted to create the sensation of being
a little bit like being in a cave.
We took the whole faceted geometry of the rocks around and we
created an architecturalised version, especially around the fireplaces.
Each of those fireplaces was cast in a precast yard in one piece.
By going to a precast yard, we could ensure that the product
would be top-notch and then transported to site.
But transporting these huge concrete precast elements to such a remote
location presented its own problems.
Poor roads and bad winter weather caused huge delays.
Gary and Nicholas employed a small team of builders who were willing to
work in such an inaccessible location.
Consequently, the house took three years to complete
but the level of craftsmanship that these builders brought to it is second to none.
In New Zealand, there is a real resourcefulness
amongst builders and there is that...
It is a bit of a cliche but there is a can-do
Kiwi attitude to making stuff and, look...
This builder would never have made a building exactly like this
and he cared so much.
I think for the last 150 years or so, we've really struggled to know
how to build beautiful buildings in landscape.
I think this building is a really good model in terms
of how to do it. It's a complex building but, actually,
it does some very simple things.
It makes a series of spaces that are beautifully lit
with fantastic atmospheres.
I do love these materials.
They're beautiful. This rock, look at it.
Only an architect would call grass "materials."
The last leg of our architectural mountain discovery takes
us a little closer to home.
Piers and I are in the Swiss Alps,
heading towards Mount Rigi
where two architects took on the challenge of building
a holiday home perched on the side of a mountain.
Soaring at 1,665 metres above sea level,
this house takes in breathtaking views but has to withstand
some of the harshest winter weather Mother Nature can throw at it.
I'm quite excited about how we're getting there.
Do you know something? This is a first for me. I've never been in a cable car before.
Have you not? Because you hate heights?
Because I've never wanted to go in a cable car before.
-You might love it.
-I won't love it.
-I don't know.
Oh, here we go.
Oh! That's the thing I don't like.
-It's why don't on fairground rides.
-I love this.
Why would you build a house up a mountain where you can only get
-there by cable car?
-There's a sense of being away, being apart,
being in nature that is really exaggerated
when you can only get there by cable car,
or, you know, a really inaccessible way.
This was going to be the greatest view ever.
There's absolutely nothing.
It's like someone's smeared duck fat all over the windows.
Here we are! It hasn't got any better, the rain, has it?
This is just the beginning of our mountain journey, Piers.
-Have you got some Kendal Mint Cake?
-Of course I have!
What sort of woman do you take me for?
I've got Kendal Mint Cake and lipstick.
That's all a woman needs up a mountain.
It doesn't take us long to reach the remote mountain village.
The house we're heading to is a contemporary take on the traditional
chocolate-box chalets which sprinkle this area.
This bespoke holiday home is owned by four friends
who shared the cost of building on this steep mountainside slope.
Luckily, two of the owners are architects and embraced
the challenge of building in this remote location,
where the closest town is a 15-minute cable car ride down the mountain.
What are your first impressions, Piers?
I like it. It looks well made, well detailed.
And really easy to use.
While deceptively simple from the outside,
this innovative house was designed with real purpose.
Its unique hexagonal shape creates the stability needed
to cope with strong winds.
A two-storey prefabricated wooden structure sits on top
of a deep, concrete foundation.
A chimney with a steel core runs right through the centre of the building,
anchoring it to the mountain
and distributing heat throughout the house.
The living areas and four bedrooms are uniquely shaped
to fit into the six-sided structure.
This is the front gate.
Ah! There we are, Piers.
-I love this.
-Watch the string.
-The cows aren't allowed in but we are.
I think that's the best gate I've ever seen.
Are we going the right way, Piers?
This is a building that you need to be able to batten down
-the hatches of.
-It's an antidote to the frilly oompah houses around it.
Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
Here we are.
It smells nice.
-It smells woody.
-And it is warm.
This wood is so beautiful.
I mean, the lovely golden light you get, even on a grey day.
I suppose that's the real proof of a good building,
is can it look wonderful even when the weather is dismal?
-And it can.
-And it does.
What a great space.
I like it.
-What a beautiful space.
I mean, that light is beautiful.
-I love this.
-I think it's almost better that it's misty.
Oh, it's lovely!
I do feel like I've been bathed in this honey-coloured glow.
These prefabricated plywood walls are a clever touch.
They're not only cost-effective but also enhance the light
in every room throughout the house.
It's very, very warm. Very relaxing. It's smells that...
That's smell of the wood is so lovely and I can imagine the smell
-of a wood fire.
-You know, as an architect,
there are very few houses I can actually even bear to be in
because I either feel claustrophobic, or I feel oppressed.
But, actually, this is a beautiful house to be in.
The simple combination of wood and concrete throughout this space helps
give the house a unique atmosphere.
There's often a sense that to make something good it has to be complex
but this house is just a really good, well-structured space,
made out of something beautiful and that's about it.
I see the wood theme continues.
I've never been in a room with as much wood in as this,
unless there's actually been some burning coals in the corner
and I've been sitting in a towel.
Because it is like a sauna.
But it works here.
And I don't know why it works, maybe it's to do with the light,
maybe it's to do with the size of the spaces.
You know, you're very aware when you're walking round that this is,
sort of, ideal for where it is.
This works a dream because the light bounces off all the different
angles and it's beautiful.
This angular aesthetic continues on the outside.
The six-sided irregular shape creates a clever optical illusion
to make it seem smaller than its 242 square metres.
I think if you stumbled upon this building in the mist,
you might think it was a Swiss mountain hut.
And it looks tiny.
I know it's a cliche to talk about buildings as sculptural
but this one really is because, as you move around it,
more and more of it is revealed to you and from every angle
it's completely different.
And, now, along the side, we can see its really beautiful shape.
The only thing that's missing from this house so far is the view.
So, I've come up with a challenge for my architect friend.
Piers, I think we should have a little drawing competition
to see who can most accurately predict what the view really is.
You're going to find some brilliant way of doing it, aren't you,
with just a single ballpoint pen and a bit of actorly charm.
Yes, I am.
So, get over it. Ready, set, go!
-One minute left, Piers.
-What's amazing is we have drawn the same thing.
We've drawn the same thing.
-I think mine's better than yours.
I think this window is set up architecturally.
-That's what I'm trying to show.
-You've got a very jealous nature.
It's just a better drawing. Get over it.
This is an intimate-sized space and all there is is you and the...
Piers, Piers, Piers. There's a bit of view coming.
-Can you see it?
-Just down there.
-Just breaking. Just breaking.
Can you believe it? After all this.
Now the view is revealing itself to us.
I'm glad it's now. Because we've loved the house already
and now we can actually see why it was built.
Do you think we would have loved the house as much if we'd seen this when we started?
-I do, as well.
-And, now, spread before us, that's amazing.
That looks like a Japanese watercolour, isn't it?
-It is like some special effects thing that
-Hollywood's putting on for us.
I still think it looks more like my picture than yours, though.
Nonsense. PIERS CHUCKLES
He's so competitive.
Even about nature.
Owners and architects, Andreas and Gabrielle
created their mountain holiday home as a place to retreat to,
high above the clouds.
Rigi actually is like an island, the mountain.
-The fog is like a lake, you know. Like a sea.
And it's like you would live on the sea.
Sometimes, people stay under the fog for weeks and,
up here it's beautiful weather.
We came up in a cable car.
How on earth did you get this house up a mountain?
In Switzerland, it's usual to build in such places with a helicopter.
So, we decided to make a prefab house.
When you prefabricate the house, they do it, this prefabrication,
earlier. Then, in one day, they bring this whole element,
the whole wall is one element, with the helicopter here.
The house was done in one day, actually.
The main house.
Although this irregular-shaped house is a departure
from the traditional chalets around it,
Gabrielle and Andreas designed this structure to withstand
the harsh winter weather.
You can get really strong winds from here.
And when you have only one wall,
then it's quite difficult to stabilise the whole wall.
But when you make it like this, you know, then it's stable.
That was also a reason to do that.
It's stabilised the whole house.
It stiffens it. Yeah.
Actually, the locals were very impressed about our entrance
because it's very well protected.
In winter time, the wind comes here and blows all the snow away.
Even the way is always clean.
-Because of the wind.
That's the reality, dealing with weather.
If you get that right, everything else is secondary.
Do you ever find it hard, when you have guests to come and stay,
is it ever hard to get rid of them?
It is, yes.
Because everyone loves the place
and they don't want to leave.
It's exactly like that, yes.
There's no better place, I think.
Yeah, I think that's right.
-Thank you very much.
-Thank you so much.
-It was a pleasure.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-Thank you so much.
I've learnt a lot today. I've learnt a lot about you, in a way
because I've learnt a lot about architecture and I've learnt
it's not about rooms, it's not about spaces,
it's not even about where the windows are, or what
the surfaces are like.
It's how a place feels. It's about atmosphere.
And that, really, more than anything, is what we all strive for.
Everything else is secondary to that one thing -
Next time, Piers and I will be exploring some of the most
extraordinary forest homes in the world...
You never see a building this close to the trees.
I mean, that's six inches away.
..to discover how architects have overcome the challenges
of building homes in these fragile habitats.
It's a tightrope you walk. It can go spectacularly wrong.
Award-winning architect Piers Taylor and actress and property enthusiast Caroline Quentin explore extraordinary homes built in mountain locations around the world, meeting the owners and architects brave enough to take the challenges on.
Their journey starts in the Santa Monica mountains in California, where one homeowner built her dream home from the most unthinkable re-used building material - the wings and tail fins of a disused Boeing 747, which had to be delivered onto the mountain site by helicopter.
Their next stop takes them to the desert Tuscon mountain range of Arizona where Caroline and Piers spend the day and stay overnight in a stunning modern house which is heavily influenced by ancient building methods. The home has an innovative take on traditional rammed earth houses, a centuries-old technique of naturally absorbing the heat during the day and releasing it at night, reducing the need for air-conditioning and heating.
Next, Caroline and Piers go to the other side of the world to New Zealand's South Island. Designed to fit within strict planning regulations, the house was inspired by the surrounding trees and mountains and is camouflaged using wooden cedar cladding to cloak the building and with fireplaces cast in concrete.
The last stop takes them to the Swiss Alps, to a unique alpine chalet. Arriving by cable car, Piers and Caroline discover its hexagonal shape gives it stability in the freezing winter winds while the steel chimney core that anchors the house to the mountain, distributes heat around the house. As the mists clear, an incredible panoramic view of the Alps is revealed.