Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin visit extraordinary homes built in coastal locations. In Norway, they stay in a four-bedroom house built on a footprint of 100 square metres.
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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 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.
Oh, 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.
No. 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 remote mountain...
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.
I mean, 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.
Coastal living promises pure sea air,
the constant sound of waves and ever-changing views of the sea.
But building houses so close to the shore in remote locations can be
fraught with challenges.
When we were building this house,
the two winters we hit was really, really bad.
And they were building in these conditions?
They tried to.
Piers and I will be travelling from the windswept islands of Norway
to the steep Mediterranean cliffs of southern Spain.
This earth is basically scree, isn't it?
-Exactly what it is.
-There's nothing solid.
And from the wild Atlantic Ocean of south-east Canada
to the flooded coastal valleys of New Zealand.
Discovering what it takes to design,
build and live in some of the world's most extraordinary coastal homes.
-So we'll see you in, what, six months?
When the winter comes, come and get your keys!
The first stop on our coastal adventure takes us to Norway
and to a group of remote islands 200 miles south-west of the capital, Oslo.
Although it's early summer now,
temperatures in winter can drop as low as minus 20 in this Nordic archipelago.
Any house built on this windswept shoreline
needs to be able to withstand everything Mother Nature can throw at it.
Our first extraordinary coastal home is a remote island retreat,
camouflaged to blend into the surrounding landscape and designed
as an antidote to the stresses of the owners' busy work schedules.
The biggest challenge for the architect was how to create
a four-bedroom home within the size restrictions of a pre-existing
property, which had a footprint of just 100 square metres.
Can you hear something?
We're being picked up by owner Dag,
who's the CEO of a large Norwegian shipping firm.
He's invited Piers and I to spend the night in his family's remote holiday home.
He's not handsome at all, is he?
Hello, how lovely to meet you!
Caroline, lovely to meet you.
-Great to meet you.
-Shall I just hop straight on? Ooh, OK!
Sure? Thank you. Wow!
Ooh! That was taller than I thought!
Just in case you were wondering, as I was,
Dag is married with three children.
# Like I just got caught in a dream... #
Although they live in the city of Kristiansand,
the family escape on a 30-minute boat ride to their very own remote
paradise island every weekend and throughout the summer.
Dag, tell us how you even came to think about building a house on an island.
As a kid, the parents of a friend of mine, they had a house on an island,
so I'm kind of used to it.
I enjoyed it a lot as a kid.
And when we wanted a place for ourselves,
we were looking for a place to have some privacy and enjoy the nature and scenery.
And we also wanted a place where...
that's sheltered from the wind.
I have a sense also that the Norwegians celebrate summer
because your winters are so harsh.
Yeah, that's true. We appreciate the good weather and the sun.
-We do, too!
-Yeah, yeah! We're with you on that one.
Are we nearly there? Cos I'm getting really excited.
It's like five more minutes and we are there.
There it is, there it is!
Look! I love the way the roof is almost like part of the rock.
It's so lovely.
-The colours are great, aren't they?
It's so discreet.
Really discreet. I really like the way it's hunkered down.
Yeah, you can barely see it, actually.
Oh! It's so beautiful.
Dag is leaving us marooned on this island for the next two days,
so we can find out what it's really like to live in this secluded coastal home.
You sure you don't want to stay this evening, Dag?
It seems such a shame. We could open a bottle of wine and have a bit of a fish barbie.
Are you sure you don't want to stay, Dag?
It seems a shame for you to go.
OK, I'm going to pass you the key and I hope you enjoy it.
-Thank you very much indeed.
So we'll see you in, what, six months?
-Something like that.
-We'll go native.
When the winter comes, come and get your keys!
I've got the keys to this house!
Already, I want to come in here and I want to take off my shoes,
not because I have to - just because I want to
cos I feel immediately at home here, which is fantastic.
And what a relief to have a building that has such a difference in inside,
inside but undercover, and then out here.
Everything is about relating to the rocks.
It really is. It really is. These spaces are delightful.
And what's interesting is that it's a building that has been designed without an elevation as such.
This is just a set of spaces that allow you to be next to the landscape
and I love that, actually.
It feels very special.
It does. But this is still the house.
And, actually, in England we think of the house as something
that has walls and doors and windows, and you're either inside or outside.
But here, this is still the house, really, isn't it?
-I think what's great about this is that this guy
has clearly just looked at where the rocks are,
where the spaces between the rocks are,
and then he's covered bits of that, rather than thinking,
"What's my house going to look like and where can I plonk it down?"
Yeah. "I must get rid of things to make my house!"
He's actually respected the landscape
and built the house to fit in with the landscape.
I love it from here, for instance.
It's almost imperceptible.
Building a house so close to the water on this protected rocky shoreline
meant the architect had to abide by strict planning laws.
The challenge was to create a four-bedroom home to fit within
the 100-square-metre footprint of a 1960s cottage that previously stood on the site.
This architect designed a low-lying one-storey building with an interior
floor plan smaller than the size of a tennis court.
To maximise the usable floor area,
the internal living spaces of the house were split into two wings,
connected by external corridors.
A thick white concrete canopy stretches over both wings of the house
and is bolted into the rocks,
securely anchoring the house to this windswept site.
Concrete was used as it can withstand the salty coastal atmosphere
and weather over time to blend in with the surrounding rocky landscape.
-The house and the rock, I mean, they are sort of as one, aren't they, really?
-They really are.
And even though those bits of timber are very vertical,
they still feel like a bit of landscape.
With limited internal floor space,
the architect made clever use of the outside space.
This is the bedroom bit.
And what's brilliant about this is that, because there is no wall here,
this corridor - ostensibly, this corridor space -
isn't counted in the overall metreage of the house,
so you can use that space inside the house where it's needed,
and this is open to this beautiful vista.
There is one main bedroom downstairs.
One here. Two here?
Yeah, another one. You've got a double bunk bed down the bottom here
and then a single up here.
There is a discretion about all these bedrooms.
They look the same but they're not,
because this is the nicest one...
and it's mine! You snooze, you lose.
What's extraordinary about this house is that what you have
is a cross-section of a rock formation like this,
and many people would level that and put a big building down there.
But what this guy has done is just carve this as delicately as possible,
and then delicately fill in a little bit of that with a bit of a building,
and leave one bit completely open, so that you get views through that.
And I think that's a really beautiful way to make a building.
And it's a building that doesn't try and compete with landscape,
it doesn't apologise for landscape.
But, at the same time, it's a beautiful, delicate thing that sits there.
And, really, that's the building.
The man responsible for this coastal home is Sven Lund,
an award-winning Norwegian architect based in Oslo.
Tell me what Dag and Rine's brief to you was initially.
They wanted a house which fitted into landscape.
That's our main goal. We had to be very careful.
Careful in the way that it was a part of the terrain rather than sticking out.
This is a really harsh climate and it's also on a remote island.
Tell me about building this house.
Exactly when we were building this house,
the two winters we hit was really, really bad.
-They were very, very cold.
-This looks pretty extreme.
This looks like pack ice, sea ice.
Yeah. The island was almost impossible to get to, or get away from.
And if you see, this picture in front of you -
it says something about the conditions.
As well as battling one of the worst winters on record,
the builders were limited to just seven hours of daylight.
And they were building in these conditions?
-They tried to.
-But what about getting materials to this site?
-The concrete arrived here on a truck on a barge.
It was towed by a boat, yeah.
How long did it take to build, given the extreme weather?
A bit more than one and a half years.
It's quite a long time for a house that is about 100 square metres.
Yeah. I think we started at the wrong time of the year, in the winter!
Building through the winter is challenging even in the UK,
but Sven was determined to finish the house
so that the family could make the most of the precious summer months.
That's pretty good.
Oh, look at that!
Even though the water temperature is a chilly eight degrees,
Piers and I can't resist a quick dip while the barbecue heats up.
You know, it's one of the first houses I've been that doesn't just
complement the landscape, it actually makes it better.
-Do you know what I mean?
-I absolutely do.
And how rare is that?
Increasingly, I'm starting to realise that what's important about
a good house is the atmosphere - about how it functions.
A house like this, the minute you're here, you start to relax
and enjoy spending time here
and, of course, it doesn't hurt that the scenery is absolutely beautiful...
even without Dag.
Piers, come and get this! It's ready!
He's not Norwegian, is he?
-Ah, yes. That's good.
-Oh, look at that!
This house obviously cost a lot of money,
but what it gives you is something that's completely priceless,
that's beyond style.
It's just about this way that we can live in this extraordinary landscape
with these rocks right here coming into the house,
and the sea lapping at the rocks just there.
I mean, it's extraordinary.
And it wouldn't do you any harm, would it,
to wake up every day to such a beautiful building?
It would do you a lot of good to wake up to such a beautiful building.
In a way, I'm selling the building short because I'm talking about
the landscape and the rocks and the light and the water,
but actually it's the building that has judged perfectly
how much architecture to do and how little,
and where to make a move and where not.
After a peaceful night's sleep,
Piers and I are making the most of outdoor living on this remote island.
Usually we're just locked away in a horrible little sealed cubicle,
away from the elements.
But being out here IN the elements,
it feels like I'm just standing under the most beautiful warm waterfall out in these rocks.
And this is just an everyday experience in this house.
Dashing Dag is tied up with business on the mainland,
but his wife, clothes shop owner Renee,
is popping by to see how we're getting on.
It's a stylish entrance!
-Lovely to meet you.
-Nice to meet you, too.
Lovely to meet you.
-Shall we sit slightly out of the wind?
-Cos it's quite breezy, isn't it?
It's such a beautiful place. How on earth did you find it?
It was winter and we were just out in the boat,
and then, when we came around in here to have a look at this place,
it was like, I think January, and it was really cold.
But it was totally clear, it was no wind.
The water was like completely still.
-Even in the winter?
-Yes. It was amazing.
We just fell - I think we fell in love with the place immediately.
Any moments when you thought, "We've taken on too much"?
Cos although it's very discreet, it's quite a big ask, this,
isn't it, not to interfere with the landscape?
No, I feel very comfortable about the whole process, yeah,
and the building and everything.
Do you spend a lot of time here?
Yeah, we live here all summer.
So is this an escape for you to come here?
Yeah. It's very, like, relaxing.
It sort of gives you some time off
because both my husband and I work quite a bit.
And it just gives you that,
you know, quality time with the kids and as a family.
You've actually created something perfect for your family.
Some houses are really good, Caroline, but this one was extraordinary.
And I think, well, I don't really want to go, actually.
It's certainly one of the best houses we've seen, isn't it?
I think it was...extraordinary
in that it just felt so much part of this landscape.
And I think...I think what surprised me is that when I got here...
I really don't want to go, Piers! I really don't want to go.
I just wasn't so sure.
And then, as soon as I really experienced it...
I think we should stay, actually.
What about you, Caroline?
The next leg of our journey to discover some of the world's most
extraordinary coastal homes takes us to southern Spain.
We're heading to an unconventional home built into a steep cliff face
on a 42-degree incline overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
SHE SPEAKS SPANISH
-I think this is the road to the cliff house.
-This is the road.
-Let's hope it is.
The plot is just the face of a cliff.
But building a house on a cliff of crumbling rock and soil
was no mean feat and required clever engineering
to prevent it from falling into the sea below.
We shouldn't tell each other what we think about this house.
We should look separately and then we should meet up,
cos I don't want to be influenced by you and I don't want you to be
influenced by me because I think this is going to be a rather weird one.
-You're just not interested in what I've got to say, are you?
Just go off and look at it by yourself!
-All right, OK!
-I thought I'd got away with that!
-Are you sure this is right?
-No, I'm not actually, darling.
-I'm sure it is.
Don't say anything! Don't speak!
I know you are dying to say something!
Don't speak! Don't speak.
-Don't speak, don't speak.
-Not a single adjective?
The challenge facing the architects was to build a house on this steep
slope, which would integrate with the surrounding landscape,
yet at the same time direct all the liveable spaces towards the sea.
Look at it and don't say anything.
This unusual three-bedroom holiday home buried deep into the cliff face
consists of two floors.
On the ground floor, a large open plan living area follows the angle of the steep slope
and is connected to a cantilever terrace with a swimming pool.
On the second floor,
all the bedrooms have uninterrupted views above the roof,
looking out to the sea.
The 150-square-metre living space is covered by a curved double shell roof of reinforced concrete,
which frames the view and orientates the airflow that comes from the sea
into the interior spaces.
If you were a little boy,
what would you put at the top of the stairs if you were hot?
You'd put a pool, wouldn't you?
And that's exactly what they've done, and then it opens out
into this extraordinary thing!
It's unbelievable. What is going on? What are these?
What the...? What are these?
Oh, my Lord!
This is comedy. It's like an Austin Powers movie set.
God, what a view, though.
What a view!
The couple who own this house found the challenging cliff-side plot
and fell in love with it immediately.
Aware of both the difficulties of the location and its potential,
they asked several architect companies to come up with a contemporary design.
The winning pitch was from two young Spanish architects,
who embraced the challenge of building a house on such a tricky site.
They came up with a design, which promised a large column-free
living space, which would provide uninterrupted views of the sea.
I wonder what my serious architect chum is making of it.
Looking at the cliff-side
and looking at how ordinary most things are here, the sheer ambition,
the sheer creative ambition to want to do something that is unlike
anything else here, I think is brilliant.
I think it's really playful and funny
and, you know... And it's extraordinary.
You know, I love all this. This is great.
I mean, what a great space to move around in and, you know...
I mean, have you been up here? This is extraordinary.
Why wouldn't you...? I think I'd put a slide right down there
into a massive pool, if you're going to go mad.
And it feels so young.
I mean, really, only a young architect can do this with the floors
and be prepared to push everything as far as it can go.
The only thing that I think anyone would say,
"Ah, yeah, that's a little bit like my home," is the kitchen space.
This open plan living area has a Gaudiesque ceiling
and unusual bespoke features.
We look like the king and queen of the oyster house.
The layout of the living space has been precisely dictated by the design.
The kitchen has a defined dining area,
where the table legs have been fixed rigid into position on the floor.
It's about the architect controlling their vision at all costs.
Does that ever happen with architects?
-Oh, absolutely. Completely.
-Oh, I didn't know that.
-I mean, it's all about protecting...
..protecting your vision from a client that wants to meddle and interfere.
Yet, ultimately, this open plan living area
has been cleverly designed to make the most of main attraction.
-Let's go see upstairs.
-Looking forward to it!
So this is the pile that's stopping the whole house tipping into the sea
because what happens is the other end of this is anchored somewhere
in the cliff face, and then the wall is built,
and then this plate is screwed down to stop it moving.
It's kind beautiful, actually.
Ooh! Look at that.
I bet Piers has talked about that.
Whatever he says, it's probably right.
It's actually really nice being up here,
right under the back part of the roof,
and seeing through that tiny little window up there,
the top bit of landscape.
And, from here, you can read the way the cliff goes all the way down to the sea.
-Hi. It's lovely, isn't it?
You very rarely get a view of a roof...
-..of your own house.
It's like an animal skin.
It is. It's very prehistoric - a slumbering dinosaur.
-It's lovely from up here,
looking all the way along this bit of the coast
and really understanding why people have been drawn here for thousands of years.
Because I think everything's better by the water, isn't it?
-This house just celebrates it, really, doesn't it?
The architects responsible for this coastal home are Jaime Bartolome and Pablo Gil.
So you won this at competition, didn't you?
Yeah. Well, the client asked a number of architects to do, like,
a preliminary design of the house.
Were you taking a bit of a risk to get yourselves noticed in this competition?
Well, definitely noticed for the client so we could get the commission.
But basically, I think what he really liked was that, from the interior,
he could have all these views,
and it was so open and the roof would play with that as well.
And, you know, like, these kind of different spaces.
The roof was the most complex element of the design.
The handcrafted metal framework was built by a local blacksmith.
This malleable material is what supports the concrete
and gives it its unique shape.
It's structurally supported by thick retaining external walls,
so there's no need for pillars to interrupt the views.
I'm fascinated by the structure
and I'd love to know a bit more about how you actually built this,
on what appears to me to be a sort of vertical cliff face,
so can we go and have a look outside and show me how you did it?
-We'll see you in a minute.
A large portion of the building budget was spent on the foundations for this house.
And looking at the poor condition of the soil here,
it's easy to see why.
Because this earth is basically, it's, I mean, it's...
-Yeah, it's the same.
-It's just scree, isn't it?
Exactly what it is, yeah.
-That's all it is, isn't it?
There's nothing here, there's nothing solid underneath.
How do you go about building?
Do you have to dig it out?
Yeah, you basically start digging and start building at the same time.
It was also difficult because you couldn't build the whole thing like a house is done,
from the bottom to the top.
You had to build it from the top to the bottom because, otherwise,
the whole thing would fall into you,
onto the workers, while the site was being built.
Yeah, massive problem.
So that was the main issue, so...
You go in steps, and then through that way,
you end up with what I can show you on the photograph, like a...
-Oh, yeah, please.
-..a huge void.
This is the site as it was before.
And then here, what happens is that you have already built the upper part.
-And then you have taken a bit off it.
And then you keep building down.
So, and then you put another wall here, and then make another...
-..inroad into that bit.
Alongside the giant anchors,
the house was secured to the cliff face using a micropile system.
This involves driving steel rods 16 metres deep into the ground
to give it a secure foundation.
For a first major project for two relatively young architects,
did you learn a lot about that client-architect relationship?
Having the client have that vision
and making sure that the rest of the team,
the architects and then on the building site etc,
everybody has the vision and goes for it.
I think, in that sense, the client was really helpful.
This intricate roof is made up of handmade zinc tiles,
which give it a unique texture and appearance.
We bought the raw material from Asturias in the north of Spain,
-a tonne of zinc, very cheap because it's not...
It's just a raw material.
We transported it to a small town in Spain,
people who worked the metal very well.
We have worked with them many times and they cut it and made the scales.
-They brought it here.
-At that time, we had trained the construction workers
and then this whole thing was built in three weeks.
Just like the roof's structure,
the story behind these tiles is one of craftsmanship, using local labour.
Manual labour, which has been thought of as something that makes the building more expensive,
we have found that it's not necessarily like that.
It was kind of a huge surprise for us as well.
With local labour, using methods of construction of this area,
we have demonstrated that it's able to...we are able to produce
a great piece of architecture, I think, for the same cost,
and with much better value for the user.
And it's a pity that this doesn't happen in every mile of the coast of Spain, which is a disaster!
Do you think, next time we come back,
will we see this whole hillside littered with amazing buildings?
We could say goodbye to the square boxes of the Costa Del Sol.
-Hopefully. I'm sure people are going to be interested in doing something else.
Yeah. When they know it's feasible,
it's durable and it can be done, so...
-Well, you've done it. Thank you.
-We've done it!
What's great about it this is that it really could set a precedent
about how to build beautifully and appropriately along this coast.
-Hope it changes things.
-It should do, shouldn't it?
-Not a bad life, is it?
-Not bad at all.
-We are lucky, aren't we?
-It's bloody freezing, isn't it? Let's get out.
-It is freezing!
Our next coastal home takes us to the other side of the world.
We're in Marlborough Sounds at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.
This ancient waterway was formed when sea levels rose
and drowned a series of deep valleys after the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago.
The result is an abundance of remote bays and coves,
and it was this coastal scenery that inspired the owner of our next house
to build a secluded retreat as an escape from his busy working life.
What an incredible thing to build a house at the end of this sea journey.
The challenge for the architect was to design a house which would sit on
a narrow strip of land between the shore and protected bushland.
The easiest way to access this house is by boat.
It's extraordinary. I'm blown away by how beautiful this is.
But the house has to be as good as this boat ride.
It's got a lot to live up to, hasn't it?
But it's quite a dramatic entrance, isn't it?
Waterfall just there, which you can probably hear all the time, actually.
It's just idyllic for me, this.
Right in the middle of a forest, right on the water.
Probably the cleanest sea water in the world.
Oh, thank you.
What I love is this sensory experience of being in landscape
and not seeing a big house anywhere.
There's something very delicate, almost hiding, behind these trees.
We could be walking through a garden in the 18th century.
Everything's so beautiful and mysterious and scented and voluptuous.
-And that's just me!
I like this entrance very much. Do you?
It's lovely being in the trees and looking down at the water.
This entire house was built out of recycled reclaimed hardwoods.
And there they are.
Jarrah, in fact, which is very red and incredibly dense.
Is that the wood that's so hard you can't drill it with a wood drill,
you have to use a metal drill?
-Is it that one?
-Yeah. Ironbark, or something, they call it.
-What makes me so suspicious of so much contemporary
architecture is that the architecture dominates and life is banished,
but here it's the other way round.
-It's all about living here, isn't it?
-It's all about living.
Living in the beautiful space.
This three-bedroom house has been carefully designed over two floors
to fit on a narrow strip of land between the hillside and the sea.
Two separate wooden-clad structures divide the house into different zones.
One is a living space, with a large dining room and kitchen area,
with guest rooms below.
The other is the master bedroom,
which is held aloft by a series of hardwood timbers that give
a sense of floating above the trees and water.
A glazed bridge corridor through the trees links the main bedroom
to the rest of the house.
Oh! SHE LAUGHS
Isn't that water beautiful?
This takes me back about 30 years, to when I was a student in Sydney,
because it's so Antipodean,
this bluey green water with the light on it
and untouched bushland around it.
And for all the abstract pleasures of landscape and place and beauty,
actually, this is a really rich and interesting home,
where someone really lives here!
They do, and with so many beautiful things and with all this wonderful, rich wood.
And then, as you say, that peacock-blue water.
While the weather's good, I'm going to just explore outside,
get my bearings and just see how it all fits together
and leave you in here to explore. There's lots to explore!
There certainly is. I'm going to have a little beak.
Nearly all of the hardwood timbers that support this house are reclaimed,
including the ironbark columns which prop up the master bedroom.
They were rescued from old railway bridges
and transported to this remote location by barge,
along with the glass windows and cedar cladding
which nestle this building into the landscape.
I really wanted to come back down to the boat to see the house from where
I first arrived, to make sense of it again,
because, when you're up close,
it's a building that doesn't really tell you how it's organised.
Because you're so immersed in just that experience of being in the trees
with that incredible view of the water.
But from here, it is a very simple building.
Constructionally, this house is really just like one of these piers.
What there are, these uprights,
there are some big, chunky bits of timber
and then everything else is a simple bit of beam with some tension wire
and then it's filled in and, really, that's it.
What's wonderful about this house is it's very unshowy,
very straightforward and it's done brilliantly.
Once you leave the entertaining space of the kitchen and the dining area,
you go to the bedroom via this green corridor,
so there's glass and pushing up against the glass is the forest canopy.
It's rainforest here. It's like being in a terrarium.
This is one sexy...
Look at this tub. Oh!
This guy's working life is...
To say high-powered doesn't really cover it -
he is a world famous cinematographer.
He's worked on some of the best films ever made.
I don't know if you know Midnight Express.
Ring any bells? Bugsy Malone?
Ring any bells?
Gravity? Planet Of The Apes?
Harry Potter? Heard of him at all?
This guy shot that.
And with all that comes a huge amount of stress,
so where better to come and unwind and get back in touch with nature?
And the real things in life - wood and greenery...
and the water!
-Are you there?
I drifted off. I was in a dreamlike state of just sensory bliss.
It is! That's exactly what it's like. It's dreamlike.
What's great about the architecture is that it's taken a back seat.
It doesn't disappear completely - there is still a building here,
but actually, what the building never does is stop you being
immersed in this place, immersed in the dappled light, immersed in that turquoise water.
I'm not sure I've ever been somewhere that's so intertwined
with nature and that verdant bushland.
It's about living in the moment, this house, isn't it?
Yeah. And it changes.
The light changes faster than anywhere I've been as it moves
through this canopy.
And, of course, the light would have been incredibly important
for him as a cinematographer.
Homeowner Michael Saracen was closely involved with the design of this house
and entrusted local builder David Keeps to execute his precise vision.
I never built a house, I didn't have a clue about how to do it.
You know, film sets is all I know about.
I go on there and say, "When's it going to be ready? When can I light it?"
But I think your visual sense, I mean,
I know you're kind of making light of it,
but actually your visual sense is...
it's deeply rooted in this property.
I mean, the use of light - it delivers.
Why did you look for this incredible piece of land in the first place?
I came out once from the States,
looked at something which was further up the Sounds
and then I heard about this one, which is 75 acres, the light was nice,
and faces north so we had sun most of the day.
I also loved that we could build close to the water.
I also love that we have a waterfall.
-So you've sort of got it in front of you and behind you.
And just stuff fell into place.
There was something quite organic, I guess.
So it was an immediate sort of response to the land and the light, was it?
Michael is dogmatic about beauty, so, as the builder, you either say,
"I'm going to bust my gut to try and interpret what this guy means by beauty."
I came to the conclusion that I was better to ignore that
and fortuitously, I think, our tastes coalesce somewhat.
Yeah, no, absolutely.
This house is all about reclaimed wood and the use of wood
and, actually, I have seen lots of reclaimed things around here.
All the hardwood is recycled.
I also like the sort of...its age.
I thought, "Why not have the house sort of constructed with old stuff which has some history?"
Well, I think that's what, I mean,
you get a real sense of that when you walk in.
It's a contemporary house,
but it already has personality and life
and you feel that it's had lots of areas and had lots of life before.
The thing is, you throw away the spirit level on a job like this.
The house is like a work of art.
It's like an installation in an art gallery.
The workings of the house are secondary to that primary goal
of surrounding oneself with beauty.
This aesthetic was extended to the relationship the house
has to the natural environment.
Preserving the beauty of the landscape that surrounded his waterside home
was paramount to Michael.
This came with its own problems,
especially when David began building the house on this tricky site
so close to the shoreline and surrounded by trees.
The soil here is extremely unstable...
All of this area is referred to
by local authority as a natural hazard area.
-So what we had to do here to support the house was drive railway
iron six metres into the ground before we could pour any concrete.
So we needed to bring in a pile-driving break and,
along the way, there were a number of old beech trees.
So I heroically climb onto the digger, with a little pruning saw,
up to the top of one of the beech trees
and surgically remove a little branch.
And then I hear a bellowing scream from the building platform.
-Who could that possibly be?
-That's the client.
Sounds like an ask, doesn't it?
What I learned very quickly was that the trees on this site were sacrosanct.
-He wanted to take the stuff out.
I said to him very politely and kindly, "For every tree you take down, I cut off a finger."
He said, "Oh, fair enough." So...
But look at it now. Isn't it incredible?
If they'd taken them all down, I just...the house feels settled in the landscape.
Which is just thrilling.
I think that is...that must be about your sense of composition and light
-I guess, yeah. I mean, that's for other people to say.
I'm not aware of it because this is how I like living.
It's me, I'm saying it, it's up to me to say it!
I mean, it is a very peaceful place.
The only sounds are birdsong, wind and water -
that's it - and I love that.
The essence of, like, naturalness.
I think it's also manifested in the building, to a degree,
the quality of the light, the quality of the design, the quality of the building - special.
For what it's worth, I think it's...
It feels a bit sad to be leaving.
When we arrived here today,
I honestly thought this was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever been.
And we were concerned, weren't we, that the house wouldn't live up to the environment?
But it has, hasn't it?
It has because it doesn't try and compete with the environment.
It doesn't try and add anything.
It just subtly weaves itself into this place, so it's inseparable.
And it's sexy, too, Piers. Very, very sexy.
Our last extraordinary house takes us to the very tip of south-east Canada
and to the province of Nova Scotia.
We are heading to a three-bedroom holiday home set on the edge of this
wild coastline, which is prone to extreme swings in temperature and
the threat of rough storms.
There's a real sense of mystery about Nova Scotia,
all those Canadian writers and actually singer-songwriters and things.
This is like some of those landscapes you see on those Swedish mysteries.
The owners of our next home are both busy physicians and wanted to build
themselves a secluded retreat on the edge of the Atlantic coast
as close to the water as possible.
So they bought a plot of land with no infrastructure in place -
so remote it didn't even have a road.
They employed an award-winning local architect to take on the challenge
of designing them a waterfront home.
The house needed to face the Atlantic Ocean head-on
and withstand all that Mother Nature has to throw at it.
We're going to see a house that I know Piers is very excited about.
I am excited. I feel like I'm on a pilgrimage
because this architect I've thought about for about 20 years,
and he's one of three or four architects in the world
who work at a really regional level doing quite modest things,
but their work is known internationally.
This is a Nova Scotian architect who's got a world-famous reputation?
Really exciting. Really excited, actually.
I just hope it's not going to be a let down.
They say don't meet your heroes.
-What's his name?
You look a little bit scared.
Is it like meeting an old girlfriend or something,
or a woman that you've always really fancied off the telly?
-I think so. Yeah. Absolutely.
-You don't want her to be a disappointment?
I don't want her to be a big disappointment, no.
Is this your Joanna Lumley, Piers?
-Here we are.
It's quite formal, isn't it?
You arrive up a staircase between two buildings.
It's very sort of ordered and neat, isn't it?
And it doesn't give much away, does it? Very closed.
It's not announcing itself, is it, at all?
No. No, and a secret door almost to go in.
Very hidden, isn't it?
Are you a bit disappointed?
I am a bit. I think I'm a bit underwhelmed.
-An entrance is important, isn't it?
-Really important. Really important.
I like the way it's perched delicately on this very rocky base, though,
because this is a rocky place.
I mean, it's a beautiful bit of landscape.
And, at the moment, there's two or three, really,
very simple boxes just perched on top.
It's quite sort of intriguing, though.
I suspect that it's all closed this side, but open the other,
-or at least that's what I'm hoping.
In keeping with the maritime theme of its coastal environment,
Two Hulls was designed to resemble the bodies of two ships in dry dock.
Each separate hull of this building is designated for individual sleeping and living areas,
both connected by a large entrance hall.
Built on a solid concrete foundation,
the steel structure is clad with a cedar wooden shell
and has glass windows throughout.
Both cantilever trusses were cleverly designed to jut out
over the coastline, inviting the sea to pass under the house
without damaging the building during rough storms.
I want to watch you open the door because I want to see whether my
theory is right - that you could hurtle backwards down those stairs.
I've got a feeling that's a design fault.
That would be really weird!
-But I'm hoping it opens in!
-You knew that was going to happen!
-You're so bad!
I think it's sort of growing on me,
but it's like a person, having to really probe them
and work quite hard to get some response.
It's like meeting your heroines.
-It's like dreaming of meeting Betty Davis and ending up with Sue Pollard.
Not that there's anything wrong with you, Sue, you're adorable, but you know what I mean!
Entering the master bedroom,
the cleverness of this cantilever design is exposed in all its glory.
That, to me, looks like an architectural dream.
This is interesting construction - big steel frame, big stiff truss.
And by the sea.
This room stretches out over the rocks below,
as if it's suspended in midair,
and gives the impression of floating above the water.
I must say, this is, so far, this is my favourite space.
-I like these.
-I think it's quite dynamic, quite exciting.
-And also I feel if it was a really awful day, a kind of really...
-Howling gale, yeah.
I could feel quite safe up here. I could witness it,
but I wouldn't feel like I was in it.
And this is a just beautiful view.
-You feel you can breathe and you suddenly get the expanse of the view.
The hull to the right contains a compact but practical galley kitchen
and a 32-foot-high living room.
-I like seeing the silver birches.
-That's beautiful, isn't it, this?
-I mean, looking down into this is really beautiful,
really beautiful. Really mysterious and magical.
This, by anyone's standards, is a really interesting,
-quite beautiful space.
-I like the wood.
I actually like the sort of neutral palette in here -
I think it works really well with the silver birches.
-Have they got a telly? Is it behind those white things?
-I don't know.
-I hope they haven't got one.
-You hope they haven't?
-You don't need a telly here, do you?
-Well, you might want to watch us!
This is almost the first thing I've seen that is a little bit playful,
you know, this is like going up in a ship's sort of galley, isn't it?
-Nice arse, by the way.
I don't know, it's a funny kind of chill-out space.
-A sort of...dunno, really.
Is that the messy quarter?
This is the messy quarter. I'm going to stay up here.
It's where all the clobber is, all the games and all the stuff.
It's quite nice. It's a beautiful space.
It's an interesting building.
It's a clever building. It's an extraordinary view.
I mean, there's lots of good stuff here.
This house is fairly sophisticated and it's a big bit of engineering,
and there are two big trusses.
And a truss, really,
is something that is very stiff but made up out of small pieces.
Because that's a box, that will skew.
You know, if you push there, the whole thing would skew around.
So what you then need to do is make it very stiff and,
by triangulating it, you make it very stiff because triangles are inherently really stiff things.
This is now a really simple twig truss
and this is a box, much like the house.
You hold it down with a big bit of foundation,
big bit of concrete in the ground, and then there's a pivot or a prop.
And what the prop is doing is allowing this piece to cantilever,
and this is stopping it tipping.
This big bit of foundation is stopping it tipping in the ground.
Architects often get really excited by cantilevers
because they're an opportunity to do a piece of non-domestic construction
and they look great.
Owners Marcelo and Sylvia fell in love with this rugged Canadian
coastline after moving to Nova Scotia from Brazil.
We started exploring the province
and really fell in love with this coast here.
It's a beautiful coast.
It's very natural, small fishing villages and really beautiful,
beautiful beaches, which kind of reminded us of our beaches in Brazil.
-They do, yeah.
-Why is that?
A little colder, but they do.
Yes, quite a lot colder. How did you go about choosing your architect?
We knew of Brian's works,
particularly around Halifax area, you know.
One of our neighbours has a house that was built by him.
And they are very, I mean, he has very strong style.
His houses, you recognise them when you look at them.
And we, you know,
we enjoy that style and we thought it would actually fit here nicely.
-How are you doing?
-Good to meet you.
-Good to meet you.
-Finally. Been looking forward to meeting you.
Award-winning architect Brian MacKay-Lyons is one of my architectural heroes.
He's the man responsible for designing Marcelo and Sylvia's extraordinary coastal home.
My partner and I grew up in and around shipyards, wooden shipbuilding,
and so we would play in the shavings underneath the hulls.
-There is something archetypal about being in those boat
sheds, underneath the boats, in the bellies of the boats.
So this is what it's all about, then?
I mean this, you know, the underside of a boat.
I mean, it's not something that us landlubbers get to see very often.
-Also it's a way of framing the landscape.
Like, right now, I don't see much sky
and I see water and beach and rocks.
And so it frames the world and makes it a very different thing when it's,
like, cropped by the building.
So this is really the experience that the building
-is supposed to be about, is the under, the between.
You know, I always think the places between the buildings and the land is really the object.
-Like in music, you know, the rests in music are as important as the notes.
Tell me a little about the conversation you had with the clients -
-or the ongoing conversation.
-Well, the first day on the site -
Frank Lloyd Wright said, "If you don't get an idea the first day on the site with the client,
"you're not going to get one."
So first day we came here, we were climbing on the rocks,
we all felt that this was the place where the landscape was most dramatic,
closest to the water.
You conceived of a building.
Was it this building?
I think fundamentally it was.
It was the scheme that we did together with the client first day.
But building a house with spectacular ocean views in this wilderness didn't come easy.
With no infrastructure, creating a road to access this remote plot
took an entire year of planning and careful construction.
That's a major road you've had to build there, isn't it?
Because was there nothing there before, maybe a walking track or nothing?
-Nothing at all?
-That road had to go through rocks.
-How did they do it?
They had to dynamite a lot of...
And we wanted to destroy the least amount possible trees,
and so that's why it's a bit...
You have to see where it will be better not to destroy the trees.
These people were very gentle clients.
You know, they weren't pushy, but they were very curious.
Intellectually curious people.
And actually interested in art for its own value,
-which makes the best kind of client.
Coming back now, a couple of years later,
are you as in love with the building as you were when you finished it?
You know, I know it sounds terrible to say, but, yes, I am, actually.
Are you happy? I mean, do you love this house?
-Yeah, I love it.
Being surrounded by nature and almost being part of nature,
even though we are in a steel structure that's quite huge!
But we are with nature and it's a beautiful...you know, we love it. Yeah.
It's a beautiful piece of land, isn't it, Piers?
It is beautiful, actually.
You know, now when I look back, I mean,
it is a dramatic building and actually very beautiful,
sitting in the silver birches in the mist brooding there.
Marcelo and Sylvia love their building.
-They love their house.
They've got their beautiful beach and all their lovely wildlife,
and that's what matters at the end of the day.
-And that's a happy ending.
Next time, Piers and I will be exploring
some of the most extraordinary subterranean homes in the world.
It's a hobbit house!
Discovering how architects have overcome the challenges of building underground.
It's stressful, it's tiring.
'It was beyond what we had hoped and imagined.'
It's really exciting!
Award-winning architect Piers Taylor and actress and property enthusiast Caroline Quentin explore extraordinary homes built in coastal locations, meeting the owners and architects brave enough to take on the challenges.
The first stop on their coastal adventure takes them to an island in Norway, arriving by speedboat for a two-day stay in a four-bedroom house built on a footprint of just 100 square metres. Built from timber covered with concrete to withstand the extremes of weather as well as the salty atmosphere, Piers and Caroline settle into this beautiful island escape with a swim followed by a barbecue.
Next is southern Spain, to an unconventional home built into a steep cliff face overlooking the Mediterranean. Caroline and Piers meet the young architects who designed this truly extraordinary building, complete with a cantilevered terrace offering maximum sea views and a swimming pool as well as an unusual Gaudi-esque zinc-tiled roof.
Piers and Caroline head to the other side of the world to the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island in Marlborough Sounds. The three-bedroom house is built from two separate wooden cladded structures - a living space with a large dining/kitchen area and the master bedroom, both held aloft by a series of hardwood timbers and linked by a glazed bridge corridor.
Their final stop is Nova Scotia in Canada, to a house inspired by two ships in dry dock. Jutting dramatically out onto the shore line, they are designated as individual living and sleeping areas. The steel structure is clad with a wooden shell and has glass throughout, and the cantilevered trusses were designed to peer over the coast and allow the sea to pass underneath.