Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin travel to Switzerland. They start their journey in a tiny hamlet called Jeurs, where they visit a contemporary take on a Swiss chalet.
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I think it's time, Caroline, to go and see how the other half live.
Talk about, "Welcome to my humble abode."
Cor, that is a whole lot of house!
He's Piers Taylor, an award-winning architect.
I mean, the depth of this wall, it's...
..four foot thick.
After you, my lord.
And she's Caroline Quentin,
acclaimed actress and passionate property developer.
This house has the perfect ratio of bedrooms to swimming pools.
We've been given the keys to some of the most incredible houses in the
world... If we were left alone here for any amount of time,
-I have a feeling...
-We'd ruin this house! LAUGHTER
To discover the design, innovation,
passion and endurance needed to transform
architectural vision into an extraordinary home.
It's so glamorous, Piers.
-We're travelling the globe...
Meeting architects and owners to explore how their daring homes
respond uniquely to the local landscape, climate and culture.
I think this is probably the greatest house I've ever been in.
Whether it's battling the elements to construct a dream home on
dramatic Scandinavian terrain...
The architect was nervous that things would go wrong.
He couldn't bear to look at it.
Pushing the boundaries of European experimentation...
-I think that's it.
-I think it is.
When I looked at the proposal, in the beginning, I was almost shocked.
Celebrating craftsmanship and beauty in Asia...
They take away the extraneous and they leave you with what is
Or going all-out for glamour in America.
And you just do what you do best, is to create a masterpiece.
-MOCK AMERICAN ACCENT:
-Piers! Is this too Miami?
We're on a grand tour of Switzerland...
A country known for its shimmering lakes and snowy mountain peaks.
-Don't forget the bulging bank accounts.
Its 8 million citizens are among the wealthiest in the world.
It's not a big country, is it, Switzerland?
It's tiny. It's pushed up against all these other countries,
with all the influence that that means.
Yes, the Germans, the French, the Italians.
So what kind of houses are we going to see?
It's Switzerland - we're going to find extraordinary houses.
They build brilliantly.
They do indeed, whether it's an eccentric flight of fancy...
I'm going to take a little walk up the wall.
Oh! ..or a more serious architectural marvel.
-I love this austerity.
-It's like a monk's cell.
This is a nation of creative architects and skilled craftspeople
who are making buildings that are simply breathtaking.
This is what I've found,
and this is clearly what this entire house is about.
The first stop on our Swiss adventure takes us to an Alpine
idyll, amid ancient pine forests and meadows of breathtaking loveliness.
Picture-postcard Swiss landscape, real ski country.
This is Switzerland, but only just.
We're only just into Switzerland, because this is France, just there,
-And, of course, skiing means it's chalet country, too,
which we can see.
But these typically Swiss houses, built to withstand snowy winters,
with thick walls and overhanging roofs, aren't what we've come for.
We're visiting a home that shows what's possible when an architect
takes a traditional building form
and transforms it into a contemporary language.
And here it is - the modern version of the traditional Swiss chalet.
And how cute.
This weekend wilderness retreat was
built on land belonging to the owner's family.
Perched on a cliff edge,
this angular black timber cabin nods to its vernacular ancestry,
but its shape has been dramatically reimagined.
It is a chalet that's been pulled apart and tweaked and...
-..into a modern way, yeah.
It's also a piece of mountain.
Yes, it mirrors the mountains beautifully.
I wonder what the two halves are about.
I suppose one is living and eating and stuff and the other...
Well, let's go and find out.
The house is split into two sections with a cleft at the back,
and doors and walls at unusual angles to one another.
On the ground floor, this V shape separates the living space from a
music room. Above, three bedrooms,
two bathrooms and an office have fantastic mountain views.
The dark wood of the exterior contrasts dramatically with its
I always think the most important part of any building is the way in.
And here we are,
arriving at the intersection between these two volumes, and also
what looks like a bit of the inside, peeled back, to show you a bit of
the internal skin coming out to greet you.
And it's all just made to encourage us to...
..open the door.
It's a pretty space.
You walk right into that split between the two areas.
And I like it, because it feels almost like Goldilocks
might walk in.
It's a very particular sensation, arriving up into the mountains -
this craggy, wild landscape - stepping in to this glowing,
The timber-lined entrance directs you into a warm and welcoming
I did not expect to find pink in this environment.
You thought it would just be more wood?
Yeah, I did, but it's actually...
It's quite fluffy and romantic in here.
And you wouldn't have thought so from outside, because it looks
incredibly practical, but of course it's romantic.
You only have to look at the incredible view to realise it's
..who love being in this environment.
And here's the fantastic kitchen.
I think you'll like this, P.
This material, this wood, this pine, just carries right on through,
only now we've got the addition of this fantastic black granite which
sort of replicates the mountains outside, but also the wood,
so that brings the trees that surround this house into the house.
It's interesting, that limited palette of materials that architects
really get off on - this sense that
you restrain your palette to just one or two things.
I love the idea of that, but I do think, sometimes, domestically,
life leads you in other directions.
You know, you've got children and therefore you will have plastics.
You've got dogs, therefore you have dog beds.
You want to live in that beautiful, stylish way, but that kind of
simplicity of vision is really hard to adhere to.
But one material allows you to live in quite a cluttered way.
I mean, I have four children with stuff everywhere.
The advantage is that that one material binds everything together,
and however slovenly you are,
like me, the house will generally look OK.
-So you can throw anything at it, really?
-I want to go and have
a little look and see what's in this room next door.
Hi! This is a music room.
-You'll be in your element.
-I'm going to go upstairs.
OK, see you in a minute.
This is a house of sharp angles, but the pine on the floor,
the walls and the ceiling make the interior spaces surprisingly
SEDATE ORCHESTRAL MUSIC PLAYS
This is a vertical slice of a room, but...
..what a place to work.
The hustle and bustle of city life feels far away here.
How wonderful to have a room in a mountain escape
completely devoted to music.
I mean, it's like something out of a fairy tale, isn't it?
And what a place to create.
To be in this environment must be so inspirational.
I'm just so tempted to...
..but I mustn't. They're not mine!
Upstairs, the sleeping quarters are tucked up under the angled roof of
This really is a bedroom where you can have your cake and eat it.
You can be perched like a bird in landscape,
or you could lie back and be protected from it,
cosseted by this warm timber.
-Hello. What have you discovered?
Well, that...that room, it's not just a music room,
it's a room full of harps.
A roomful of harps on a Swiss mountainside?
You couldn't make that up.
-You couldn't. It's...
-It's too ethereal for words.
-Have you been composing something?
-Yes, I have.
I've been composing a small...
A small opus to you, actually, but I don't want to give that away now.
It's not... It's not ready for your ears yet.
Opera, symphony or two-minute punk song?
I'm afraid you're going to have to find out later.
-Wow, I can't wait.
-You're going to love it.
This deceptively spacious house has made the owners feel profoundly
connected to the mountains.
This is what this house is all about, for me.
It's about contemplation...
Caroline is clearly inspired by her surroundings,
and it's hard not to be.
This house makes one simple move, and it does it really well.
It started life as, like many chalets are, a square.
That square was then cleft through the middle.
One half splays out one side, the other half splays out another side.
What that cleft allows is a very clear way to enter a house,
which is in the middle, in between these two parts of the building.
Then, in one half, there's a half which gives this house
its way of becoming a home.
Then you have two big rooms - one which is the living room,
that has a panoramic view
going in three directions, and the other is a more intimate room,
which is this music room, and another window out into a much more
intimate sense of landscape, into the garden.
And that's how this house works in plan.
In elevation, the house takes a Swiss chalet,
it cleaves it through the middle, drawing on the way these buildings
have been made for generations in this landscape, and reconfiguring
them for the 21st century.
This modern chalet was built as a peaceful sanctuary for its owners,
Olivier and Celine, as an antidote to their busy urban lives.
So what was your brief to your architect?
The moment we knew we were building here, it meant,
"OK, we're building for a lifetime, family time,
"perhaps even the next generation."
We told him we want, you know,
a big access to the outside from inside the house.
-And this split?
-This split came from him.
-And that split breaks the house down into smaller pieces...
..but it also gives an interesting
relationship between those two living spaces. Tell me about that.
I think the best example to tell you about it is,
I can be in the living room and looking through the window and I can
see my wife playing the harp in her music place.
-And it's really...
-She's a harpist?
She's a harpist, yeah, and she's got her own music room.
So that's a very beautiful - you can gaze lovingly at your wife through
-that picture window.
This split is an unconventional architectural move, but
elsewhere, Simon Chessex,
who designed this modern take on a traditional chalet,
was keen to make a virtue of the region's architectural heritage.
When I arrived, I saw the house was lifted up.
Why is there that overhang?
We thought it was interesting to have this kind of sensation of being
-just above ground and then...
-..just hovering, exactly, yeah.
-So this is one reason.
The second reason is, you can't just put timber directly on the ground.
-You have to have a kind of a...
-A buffer? Yeah, exactly.
-So we have this concrete base which plays with tradition.
In all the rural chalets in the Swiss mountains,
they invented these things, which is lifting
the wooden piece just above the ground,
so that mice couldn't go inside to eat all the...
-I don't know how to put it.
The clean lines of Simon's design might suggest that this was a simple
build, but appearances can be deceptive.
At the beginning, we knew that we had to use a helicopter, erm,
because the road was too small.
-I mean, the trucks couldn't come here.
So we took that into consideration.
So the external shell of the house was created by pre-fabricating 40
separate timber pieces, flying them in and assembling them on-site.
-Everything was built like a toy...
-Like a puzzle, or...
Yeah, yeah. Like a wooden puzzle being put together.
Yeah, a wooden puzzle. And then, in less than two days,
the house was built.
And the team's hard work paid off, as they produced a really
accomplished piece of architecture.
How do you feel, having spent that time in this house?
You know, it recharges the batteries.
It's been four years, and yet it's the same feeling.
We open the door, we enter the house and we're like,
"Wow, this is just powerful."
And you feel just at ease, quiet,
relaxing, it has a direct impact.
The completion of this contemporary chalet has left a lasting impression
on its creator.
When a house like this is finished and you walk away,
what's it like to come back and to visit it?
It's such an important moment.
I mean, and then, this is extremely something which is very special.
You give the keys to your client and...
-..it was your baby.
-In a way, it's like bringing life.
-I mean, it's such YOUR project, and then suddenly
you give it to somebody else and then you say, "OK, now..."
I don't know, like, "Go ahead and take care of it."
So how does it feel? How does that feel?
And... And coming back and looking at it, actually,
we did well. My job was OK.
-More than OK!
-I'd second that.
And it is still very much just a cabin in the woods, isn't it?
It is. It shows that tradition isn't a dormant thing.
It's something that you reinvent, and it's a living,
breathing thing, because this is still a Swiss chalet.
I love the fact that they use this place to get out of the city and to
reconnect with the mountains and with their creative life.
Speaking of creative endeavours, Caroline,
don't you have a little something for me?
-SHE CLEARS HER THROAT
# I've discovered
# An architect
# With an intellect like a mountain!
# And I have found
# A new way of life
# Looking at houses
# And I love it! #
I knew it would be an aria!
MUSIC: Green Onions by Booker T & the MGs
We're now heading into Switzerland's
Deep South, to a town called Brissago,
on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
This region is called Ticino,
and it's famous for its mild and Mediterranean climate.
The architecture, cuisine and culture are closely related to
-neighbouring Italy. Italian is the official language.
-UPBEAT MUSIC PLAYS
Certainly beautiful, isn't it, the scenery?
It is. It's gorgeous.
I love being here, Central Europe.
The owner of this next house found his site when he was on a bike ride,
so we followed his example and saddled up.
What Piers doesn't realise is, I've got an electric motor.
-Have you been practising your cycling?
Yeah. Isn't this a great view of Ticino?
Ticino. It's like a Yorkshireman talking about trousers.
-"Have you seen t'chinos?"
-T'chinos! Seen t'chinos...
-We're almost in Italy, aren't we?
-Well, that is Italy, right there.
-Two miles down the coast.
-Yeah. You can really tell, can't you?
The buildings change entirely. The amount of stone used here.
That's the vernacular, a little vineyard with a barn above it.
I like the way the terraces are still used for growing vines.
-I wonder what sort of wine they produce.
-I don't know. I hope to find out later.
-Fancy that? Something red? What's red in Italian?
-Come on, I'll race you!
MUSIC: Bicycle Race by Queen
-Come on, then! What's keeping you?
-What's keeping me? What's keeping
-Hang on! That's not fair.
I ran out of battery.
-Your battery or the bike?
-It just stopped.
Don't look quite so pleased with yourself.
From the road, you can't see much of this house as it's mostly hidden
below this rooftop entrance.
It doesn't give much away.
-Quite an interesting introduction to a property.
Oh, this is an amazing datum, isn't it, that's set up by the top of this house to claim these mountains.
-Piers, Piers, Piers. What's a datum?
A simple horizontal line that claims this view.
Or is it for parking?
Well, it probably does something like that as well, but... LAUGHTER
Yeah, I think this is the front door.
And we're at the top of what looks like a four-storey house.
You can hardly tell there's a house here at all, really.
No, no. Just that datum! LAUGHTER
And then down into this extraordinary stairwell.
Well, it feels quite Moorish, actually,
just this slot cut into the building with these stairs that bring you down.
No parapets, just this and the sky.
You could be in Marrakech.
This house is a monumental mass of cast concrete,
towering over the water.
Concrete was chosen to reflect the local stone,
then punctured on all sides by differently sized windows that take
in spectacular views.
But the real beauty of this design is that it manages to be fairly
low-key, so it doesn't dominate its neighbours.
Like it, like it so far, enormously.
And the rough-hewn quality of these walls...
-Yeah, so when it's going off,
they fire stuff into it to take off the top layer and expose the
aggregate. It's about picking up on this whole sense of this bit of
Switzerland being about stone.
The design for this concrete house was ambitious in the extreme.
It had to cling to the side of a steep cliff, on a narrow plot,
surrounded by existing buildings.
The architects created a home full of light,
built around a large courtyard,
with a generous kitchen and dining room on the top floor.
Beneath that lies an open-plan living area.
The lower two floors contain bedrooms,
plus a fitness suite and a cinema.
Two paths lead to a garden terrace and pool.
I like the way it just leads you straight into
a very nice living space.
Which is quite dinky. I mean, I'm not 6'3", you may have noticed.
I am, and oddly I can't reach the ceiling, which is really strange,
-But that's quite an unusual sensation, for me,
except in a building that's really ancient.
I also like the fact that this concrete surface in here is
different to that very rough concrete surface out here.
This is just slightly different, isn't it?
It's brushed to give it this...
-And the floor is completely smooth.
-And does it mean that it's really practical? Will it take wear and tear?
It'll get better and better and better as it's lived in.
-It'll show life happening on top of it? Yeah.
-It'll show life, and most modern buildings don't show life.
-They're designed to preserve the day of completion forever.
Oh! We're descending into the bowels of the house.
But it's the cosier private spaces that are so important in a holiday
Right, let's find our bedrooms.
-I'll take this one.
-I think you've got the view.
Oh, no. It's like a monk's cell.
Gosh, so pure.
I love this austerity.
I hate it!
UPBEAT MUSIC PLAYS
The bedrooms could be considered to be a touch severe, but Caroline may
be reassured to know that the middle level is less intense.
The living room, with its lake views,
leads seamlessly out into a double-height courtyard, designed to
be the heart of this home.
Despite its modern looks, it's a nod to a traditional way of life here.
All old houses in the north of Italy and southern Europe had courtyards
rather than balconies, because this is a cooling device,
and it's a great bit of usable space that
is neither inside or outside.
What's wonderful is, you're protected, aren't you, from the elements?
So you've got the best of both worlds.
And also, in here, you've got life.
You've got real trees, water.
You've got the sound of the elements as well.
And in a building that isn't huge, with small spaces,
this could be construed as quite an indulgence.
-This is as big as their kitchen and dining room...
..but I would argue this is the most important room in this house.
I imagine this to be a space that's used a lot by the family,
because you can, you know, be inside and relaxing or whatever,
but if you want fresh air and to look at the sky,
and it is so beautiful.
Two sets of perforated sliding doors allow access to and from the
And you can play with the ventilation,
and deal with heat and wind.
Because this, of course, is another device to bring air across the plan.
It works, too. I can feel the breeze changing as I stand here.
You can feel that.
Listening to my pal banging on about architecture has made me ravenous.
I'm going to get some lunch!
There we are.
This is a very nice place to sit and cook, sit and watch someone cook.
Yes, it is. It's a really good space to work in, too.
It's, erm... It's kind of got everything you want, really.
I, erm... The only thing I probably would ask for would be just a little
bit more fresh air.
I think there's that really interesting tension in houses like
this, that I can see this architect's mind wanting just a
sheet of glass and no obvious way of sliding it or moving it.
And that sits on one side of the fence.
The other side of the fence is you and I,
who would want to slide this back completely.
Is that always going to be the thing between architects and clients?
-It is, isn't it?
That the perfection of the image and the reality of the use...
-There's always that tension.
-Take that over. I'm ready to eat.
-And what's Italian for red?
And outside, there's more concrete.
The pool and outdoor kitchen are created from the same single
I think there's a sort of serenity in this building that is, you know,
mirrored in the courtyard and here by the pool.
It's just, it's still, it's serene, it's quiet...
..and it works enormously well on that level, I think.
I would be frustrated with the pool here, because I would have wanted it
as one of those courtyards, and...
..the ability to use that water in the
house, even when you weren't swimming.
-To get the reflective light and things, you mean?
Listen, I wouldn't grumble, though, if I were gifted it.
In T'chino! Don't t'grumble in T'chino.
This house has a very steeply sloping site and, like many houses,
it's only really by drawing it in section that you get a handle on
exactly what's going on. So, at the top, you walk down,
past that long wall, and that's the device that brings you in.
But the key organisational bit of the building is dealt with by this,
this courtyard, here.
And ultimately it connects the sky with the view of the lake.
And then, below that, you have the bedrooms.
And then at the bottom, there's the pool,
which allows you to swim in this water here
and really feel like you're floating thousands of feet above the lake,
At the end of the day, the fundamental principle here is all
about light and view, light and shade.
And this courtyard is the device that does that.
And this way of making domestic space is something these people in
this part of Europe have done for generations.
The building uses natural light in a range of creative ways.
The courtyard's internal void, the staircase slats,
and the holes punched in the doors
all produce different shadows and illumination throughout the day.
This idea is central to the work of Wespi de Meuron Romeo architects who
designed this home.
The light brings life into architecture.
We try also to give the architecture some kind of soul,
some kind of a nice atmosphere where people like to live inside.
And the man who does live inside, Reto, has dropped by to
tell me how he came to own this miraculous monolith.
Did you know what sort of house you wanted?
Yes, we wanted to have a modern house, definitely.
And my wife said, "That's OK, you can make...
"You can build your concrete house, but it has to be...
"..have a warm texture to it, a warm atmosphere and everything".
then we decided together with the architects to put a lot of wood in
it, the windows and everything, to give it a warm feeling.
And I think this house has some warm texture and feelings to it,
you know? I think one of the biggest challenges we had here is
that we don't have a balcony.
In the beginning, we discussed, should we have a balcony or not?
Because it was a courtyard, right?
So it was a tough time to get around the concept of a courtyard.
We were scared in the beginning, but now it turned out the centrepiece of
the house and it's really fantastic. We love it back there, yeah.
You see, we knock our architects, but sometimes they lead us into
places. We give them a little bit of resistance, but they take us places
we do want to go, actually, even though we don't know it ourselves.
Yes, I fully agree, yeah.
So this house, as well as being a bold concept,
is also an excellent example of a client and architect working well
-It's different, this place, isn't it?
-It is, and I love it.
I love the full-on experience you get in a house that has no
-concessions to normality.
-I really enjoyed the experience of being
here, of the courtyard and then the sheltered spaces, the light,
the dark, the play of shadows on the wall, the textures.
And I think it proves that, more than anything,
the primary purpose of architecture is to elevate the mundane and rescue
you from a world of normality and the everyday.
Oh, Piers, I'm so sorry to spoil it for you, but everyday life is with
-Oh, is it?
-..because we have got to get going.
-What a shame.
-Finish your coffee, delicious though it is.
Here we go, on the road.
# On the road again. #
Destination Nummer drei lies on the edge of Lake Zurich in northern
-Oh, the German-speaking part.
Ja, das ist richtig, mein Freund.
But we've got a train to catch.
In the country of very strict and good timekeeping,
we're running slightly late. Oh, hang on, tickets, tickets, tickets!
-Here we are. Now, where are we going?
-Next. OK, good.
-Now we put the card in.
-You do that.
-I know the number, you don't. Mua-hah-ha-ha-ha!
-There we are.
-You going to trust me with these?
-No, I'm not, actually.
-I'll lose them.
-I don't trust you with them at all!
MUSIC: Mr Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra
Stefan Camenzind, the owner and architect of the house we're heading
to, went to extreme lengths to achieve the house he longed for in
this highly valued lakeshore location.
These tiny little houses, they're adorable, aren't they?
-Yeah, yeah. I think...
-They're so traditional.
Sort of Zurich hinterland, isn't it?
-It's the suburbs, or the zuburbs of Zurich.
The zuburbs of Zurich.
Now, I think the house should be coming up shortly.
I think it's on this sliver of land between the railway and the...
-You got that? We missed it!
-Oh, no! That was it!
We've got to get off. We've got to get off now.
Stefan's desire to realise his dream on a limited budget led him to
consider a neglected strip of land next to the train tracks.
And the challenges of this site inspired an unusual design in a
neighbourhood of more conventional buildings.
MUSIC: Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds
Swiss suburbs are so particular,
because they are full of very traditional villas -
big roofs, shutters.
I think of the Swiss as being quite conformist as well.
Very conformist. The most outrageous thing you could do is maybe paint
your shutter a not-quite-so-subtle shade of green or brown.
-I wonder, then, how they've taken to this.
-This is not conforming to anything, is it?
-Not in Switzerland.
It's total anarchy for Switzerland.
MUSIC: Heart of Glass by Blondie
# Once I had a love and it was a gas
# Soon turned out had a heart of glass... #
This is Flexhouse,
a playful property built on a modest site, with walls of glass and
ribbon-like curves of concrete that outline its structure.
The whole composition is fluid, light and open.
This sweeping serpent of a shape demands attention, doesn't it?
-It does. It is, yeah, "Look at me."
-"Look at me, look at me!"
The challenge was to use this narrow triangular plot
sandwiched between a road and a railway line.
With impressive engineering,
the architect created a striking S-shaped home with three living
levels and a garage in the basement.
The ground level is open-plan and offers lofty living space.
The first floor is home to two bedrooms and bathrooms...
..while the uppermost storey houses a studio and two terraces that enjoy
180-degree views of Lake Zurich.
Oh, and the curves continue in here, too.
This is the neatest house I've ever been in.
It is very, very clean and tidy and white.
I like the way all of these curves
just fit in with the building.
It works really well, doesn't it?
-The way they've kitted the place out.
-And that's quite satisfying, isn't it?
The way that panel of built-in stuff fits in there.
The kitchen, the table and the bespoke shelving were specially
commissioned to go with the flow.
But I think what's interesting is that it is very un-Swiss, because it
-is quite fun. It's quite unserious.
-It is fun. In fact, it's such fun,
I'm just going to take a little walk up the wall.
-Actually, you know, what I'm tempted to do is to run from here,
like, run up and actually see if I can go all the way over.
Do you know, if we were left alone here for any amount of time,
-I have a feeling...
-We would ruin this house!
Very, very quick. There'd be black footprints all the way up the wall,
-right to the top!
-Down the other side.
UPBEAT MUSIC PLAYS
As a living environment, it must be very good fun to be here.
It's a good space. I like the... I like the way this functions,
that there's a living room here,
somewhere to eat, and a kitchen, and then straight outside, and of course
the added bonus here is you have got a pretty fantastic view.
-I've got the best view.
-Shall we have a little look upstairs?
Slicing through the living area,
the delicate spiral staircase transports you to the other levels.
So I guess this is the guest bedroom, and what's interesting of
course is seeing this curve come up and the floor becomes the wall and
the wall become the ceiling.
And it's difficult to take a space like this and occupy it because, of
course, where do you put your bed?
You know, do your pillows and cushions fall off? Etc, etc.
And I think architecture is full of compromises.
How do you pay for it? How do you make it?
How do you occupy it?
In a different part of the house, I, too,
am concerned with practicalities.
If I lived in a house like this, this is what I would do,
because I like to keep my bowels regular,
I would adapt them to the train timetable,
and because the Swiss are so good at timekeeping,
I'd know that when the 9:02 was coming past my house...
..that would be the exact moment when I should be doing my business.
A house squeezed between a road and a railway would
normally be noisy, but the architect has solved this problem with an
integrated ventilation system in the walls and floors,
which reduces the need to open windows.
Plus there's an insulated concrete retaining wall at the back which
optimises sound absorption.
It's, erm... It's interesting, isn't it?
When you open up these big glass panels,
you're aware of quite how much noise there is outside.
Yeah, cos there's a road down there but you don't hear it.
Has a submarine quality when you shut the doors.
-Yes, you hear that suck of the air going out.
This house is beautifully made.
It showcases what the Swiss do so well,
particularly if they're as resourceful as Stefan in achieving a
huge amount for not a great deal.
I did hear that the cost per square metre in Switzerland on average is
less than in England, cos here everyone knows how to build.
Your average guy with a van and a bag of tools could build this in
Switzerland. In England, you'd need the best builders,
the best engineers and a huge set of documents which would cost a
fortune, and that would push the bill cost up.
So what we need to do is build all our houses here and then transport
-them back home?
-That would be a good idea.
-It's all making sense.
Creating a home on this unusual plot required serious engineering skills,
as Stefan, who is the owner and the architect, discovered.
Building on a railway line is always a challenge.
How did you deal with the railway?
When I bought the plot of land,
the space, actually, where we could have built the building was very,
very tight. So the only way we could actually create the building was
negotiating with Swiss Railways to build, actually, even closer to the
-So you did that?
You're closer than you would usually be allowed to be?
Yes. Normally, the distance to the boundary of the railway property is
-And how close are you?
-We are one and a half metres.
So you negotiated an additional metre and a half?
-How did you monitor the safety of the track?
So they came with a whole protocol...of requirements.
The track itself was not allowed to move, twist, go down, go up.
-How did they measure that?
-So they installed, actually, some kind of
laser system that literally measured it, which would give an alarm,
and there were different alarm levels.
If it moved two millimetres, the first alarm would go off.
Wow, two millimetres? An almost impossible window of operation.
Yeah, it was a challenge - let's put it this way.
So it's really a labour of love, to make it look so easy and natural.
All the best projects are.
The story of this house is one of an architect uncovering the potential
of a site, and working out how to
fit what is a really elegant building into
a very, very difficult site.
An S shape is unstable - it wants to collapse.
So what Stefan has done is prop the south facade with these very
slender steel columns.
The other side is a thick concrete wall - thick quilted concrete wall -
that keeps the railway out and, importantly, keeps the heat in.
So not only is it a story of real perseverance,
it's also a story about sustainability.
Stefan and his wife Ana have agreed to tell me more about the big white
S they live in. How did you come to
design a serpentine building?
This snake shape - what focused you on that as a shape to choose for
your living environment?
Well, I think this place is a lot about movement.
You've got the train very close by,
we have actually the road in front of us, the lake -
it's all moving around it.
So the idea was to make a building which doesn't look so permanently
anchored into the ground,
but actually much more gentle and has a flow in itself.
That's really interesting. So this is almost not a static piece of
work - it's something that sort of has a movement built into it.
-Do you find that...because it is an
extraordinarily open house, is that exciting, or do you ever think,
"Oh, I want to hunker down,"
-and can you do that here?
-Well, for sure,
I feel very excited about seeing everything that is around me.
I still feel very connected to the outside,
and if I do feel like having that cosy moment on my own,
I can always close the shutters or I can close the curtains.
And do your neighbours feel the same?
-Do you find that they're interested in...
We certainly see there's a lot of people, when they go past,
they do have a look and tend to be interested in what's going on here
-with this building.
-What's your favourite thing about this house?
Well, I like very much the connectivity, inside-outside.
When we used to live in town,
it was always the weekend when you felt like, "Let's get out,
"let's go into nature, let's go into the mountains."
And actually living here now, suddenly you feel, actually, it's
not so much that we needed to go to the mountains -
-we just needed to see some greenery and be outside.
And here you just have it - it doesn't matter what weather -
and you're connected so well, and that's just amazing.
Flexhouse really breaks the mould.
I'll never forget it.
This house is sort of the last house I ever expected to find in
Switzerland. It just isn't very Swiss - it's too eccentric.
It is a bit bonkers, but there's an incredible precision here in how
they've dealt with putting the house together.
It's a little bit like the train service - it runs very, very well,
-to time, always perfect. And there they are!
-Always on time.
-Hi! Oh, he's waving! Hi!
-TRAIN HORN BLARES
How fantastic! Brilliantly on time.
-What is the time?
That's our train.
MUSIC: Hocus Pocus by Focus
The final stop in our Swiss spree takes us to the centre of the
country, and a really sculptural house overlooking Lake Lucerne.
I'm excited, because although I love architecture, I share a different
passion with the owner.
Do you ever think that a car is,
well, like a piece of architecture, really?
Erm, I can see there's beauty in some cars.
I can see some classic cars are very beautiful,
but in my life, cars really are just to get me from A to B.
Do you know, on my 11th birthday, my parents said,
"You can do anything you like.
"Whatever you'd like to do, today is your day."
And I thought, "Great," so I elected to go to the car park and look at
all the cars. LAUGHTER
I think it is down here somewhere, but...
-Yeah, I don't know where.
-I hadn't expected it to be along a little
-narrow road. I was...
-Here, here, here.
-There it is.
Oh, look at it.
It's so impressive!
MUSIC: Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up by Barry White
This is a complex piece of construction where a concrete and
glass cave is carved out of a mountain in two sections.
The lower part was built to house the owner's classic car collection,
and the upper part, living space.
It's comprised of three glass-fronted boxes,
angled in different directions to maximise views.
It's like part of the mountain has fallen down and shattered and just
-come to rest up there.
-It's really dramatic.
-And I like the fact it's absolutely bang next door to all the
little chalets, just really... It's exciting.
-Here, do you think?
-Yeah, let's go and help ourselves.
Villa Am See's dynamic form dominates its surroundings.
The lift is the spine of the house, linking the garage with the
residential space further up the hill.
The lower level contains the main bedroom suite and access to a
swimming pool cantilevered over the hillside.
The entire middle floor is open-plan -
kitchen, dining and living space.
Nestled up top is an office, a guest room,
and of course, for this movie-star-style home, a cinema.
This is like some ancient catacomb,
that we're entering into the bowels of the earth.
This concrete chasm of a corridor runs deep into the hillside.
At the end, a lift takes you up into the living quarters.
But for now I'm staying downstairs to see the room that was the
catalyst for this house - the garage.
I mean, the whole history of Porsche design is in here.
MUSIC: The Passenger by Iggy Pop
I really hadn't been prepared for this.
God, it's so beautiful.
I mean, little bucket seats,
wood-rimmed steering wheel, and the knobs!
God, they're lovely!
I mean, this is an amazing piece of architecture.
I mean, everything that you need to know about making a piece of space
and bringing materials together, you could get from this car.
# Singin' la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
# La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la... #
Whilst Piers salivates over the motors, I'm going to explore the
rest of the house...
..once I've thoroughly enjoyed this corridor.
Look at the way this wall tilts outward.
Look at all the angles - it's quite extraordinary.
The smooth concrete,
then the lighting, shooting up and then shooting down these walls.
I think it's one of the most exciting entrances I've ever been in
in my life.
Mmmm... That one.
The owner's obsession with cars meant his original idea was for a
well-equipped space to work on his collection,
and the accommodation above was almost an afterthought.
This isn't just a house and a garage, though.
This garage is a piece of architecture.
I love the way it's made into a piece of theatre.
When you come in,
this beautiful set of materials and objects and vehicles is revealed to
you through this window.
I need to go and see the rest of it.
Hard to know what I'm going to find.
This is what I've found,
and this is clearly what this entire house is about.
This fantastic view of the mountains
and of the lake is extraordinarily beautiful.
And, rather charmingly, at the back of the house...
..away from that incredible window, there's this secret space,
a private space, a space where one can do cooking.
Even in fabulous houses like this, you still need to make an omelette
Even if you have to use a little bit of a...
..petrol pump to put your oil on.
And to time your eggs in the morning, you have to use the
dashboard clock from a sports car.
I detect a theme here!
That's a knob. I don't know what sort of knob that is,
but I know for a fact I'll be getting letters from single
gentlemen in flats all over the country.
This is obviously part of an engine.
Again, do feel free to let me know exactly what part of an engine that
is - I'm fascinated.
even the kitchen knives.
This man's a fan of the sports car!
Pretty sexy kitchen, though.
It's a pretty sexy house, too,
especially the top floor where the views from the owner's study could
make even a Bond villain smile.
SLOW JAZZ PLAYS
It's amazingly empowering, being up here, on top of the world.
This landscape, this architecture, that allows me to feel this way.
And what I feel like is that I
really should be taking over the world.
And here we're at the back of the house, directly beneath the kitchen.
There's a little bit of stolen light shooting down here,
on to just the little water rill,
which reflects the light back up again.
-Hello. What have you discovered over here?
A water rill and a slanting wall, and some stolen sky from above,
-which I'm really enjoying.
-It's beautiful, isn't it? Really lovely.
This is sheeting over, isn't it?
As you say, to sort of borrow that bit of light from there.
It's stunning. I mean, every surface is slightly different.
And it is such a restrained palette of stuff,
and I like houses that are really restrained.
But what do you think about all this black metal,
concrete and black leather and chrome furniture?
Well, it strikes me as what is ostensibly a very butch house.
Having said that, I'm really happy here.
I mean, I think... I don't think I'm a particularly sort of feminine or
girly girl, so maybe this suits me.
I love these materials.
I like the fact that, you know, I could exfoliate the backs of my
arms on any of the walls at any point.
I think it's really pleasing.
It feels like raw space carved out of this hillside, doesn't it?
-There's a series of tunnels and strange passages,
and you're not quite sure ever what your relationship to somewhere else
-Quite exciting, that, isn't it? Because you never know what you're going to find.
I mean, I'm guessing over there is a room, but I don't know.
-Shall we give it a go?
-I think there's a pink boudoir over here.
Do you think so? Something pink and fluffy?
Pink and fluffy is probably out of the question,
as the main material in this house is exposed concrete,
treated to produce a velvety texture.
This doesn't look like a normal entrance to a bedroom at all.
Because most rooms have walls that are six inches thick,
and not six foot thick. This is like a tunnel through a
-piece of rock.
-A mountainside, almost.
The great news is that you can carry on exfoliating yourself on this. LAUGHTER
Yes, this sort of rusty finish on the wall here.
It goes right the way round. It's not at all what you'd expect as a
finish, is it? When you get out of bed in the middle of the night,
you don't expect to come across here and graze your knee, do you?
It's quite... I mean, it's a bold choice, isn't it?
Yeah, it is. It's unusual, actually.
Because bedrooms are typically things that are soft and tactile,
and I think this is tactile in a
different way - it's hard and tactile.
This rough, textured floating wall provides storage space and some
bedroom privacy, and its curve leads the way into the bathroom.
-It's quite a bath, that, isn't it?
-What do you do in a bath that size?
-The same as you do in any other bath - have a read and a piddle.
-I'm not sharing a bath with you!
-No, that's right, you're not.
This house has transformed the hillside from a near vertical patch
of scrubland into a dynamic piece of design.
MUSIC: Money, Money, Money by Abba
It took over seven years from planning application to completion.
One can only really understand this building fully when you draw a
cross-section of everything from top to bottom,
right the way down through the house.
Cos what there is, is a really big bit of hillside with an enormous,
dramatic entrance cut into it.
And then there's a lift shaft that runs up five floors, and then around
that are arranged those three distinct boxes.
And then, if you draw the sun,
you'll see how clever the daylight penetration into the heart of this
house is. Then if you colour
the hillside in,
you can see the sheer mass,
the sheer mass of this rock that had to be excavated to actually get this
whole piece of three-dimensional origami to work.
It shows that underneath every simple idea is often a really
complicated bit of engineering.
And, of course, that's what the Swiss are so good at.
The owner of this house is a former financial adviser who retired early
and retrained as a mechanic so he could devote himself to his vintage
cars. Adi, when did you fall in love with cars?
It was when I was about 12.
I read in a magazine, a test report on a 911, and I was so fascinated
that I said, "One day, I want to own such a car."
But I worked hard, and when I got
the opportunity and enough
financial means, that's
when I fulfilled my dream.
How many have you got now?
Now I have six, but over time I had about 40.
-And is it true that the house was built for the cars?
Yes, because, when I was 18,
I bought an old Triumph Spitfire,
It was in an old shed, no water, no light, no electricity, and then
I also decided, "One day I want to have a place that is warm
"and has all the facilities."
So did you expect such an exciting
and challenging house?
No. I was actually surprised.
When I looked at the proposal, I must say, in the beginning,
I was almost shocked and thought, "This is too radical."
And I spoke to a couple of friends, showed it to other people, and they
-said, "That's the house you're after."
-"That's your house."
Was there a special feeling you had when you moved into this house?
Yeah, because when I moved in, we first had,
like, a party, and then everybody left.
I stayed on my own in the house.
I drank a glass of wine,
I sat down and I was lying on the
floor and I thought, "That's it now, that's my place, I feel at home."
-The first time I really felt at home. That...
-In your life, really?
MUSIC: Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics
# Sweet dreams are made of this
# Who am I to disagree... #
Given that this is one of the most beautiful views in the world,
I find it rather odd that the thing I'm going to remember most about
this house is the entrance.
It's like walking into an auditorium -
you're in the dark and you are led forward to where the main attraction
-will take place.
-The whole house is a piece of theatre really, isn't it,
in terms of how you move through it and then how you're given bits of
landscape at key times.
I love that, but I also love the fact, with this house,
that, although it's a very strong house,
it's also deeply sensual and very...
..very tactile, and that really surprised me.
And full of rich light.
Dark, shade, shadows, texture and real mood.
-Very Swiss indeed.
-I shall miss it hugely.
-I think time to go back to the drizzle, though.
-I guess it is.
Back to nine degrees and drizzling, whatever time of year it is.
-Yeah, never mind.
-Do you want a lift?
Next time, we're in Japan...
It's magical, mysterious and romantic.
..a land of extremes, where modernity mixes with tradition.
But where are we now?
And the craft of making architecture reaches another level...
It's like a great big firework, shooting up into the sky.
..as once again we go in search of
the world's most extraordinary homes.
It's not big, but it is clever.
Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin travel to Switzerland, where architecture is influenced by neighbouring European countries and dramatic landscapes.
Maison Aux Jeurs is built in the shadow of Mont Blanc, 1,300 metres up in the Alps. It is a modern take on a Swiss Chalet - clad in black larch, raised off the ground and split down the middle to create a dramatic v-shaped house. The interior walls are warm honeyed pine and the views are astonishing. To build this high in the mountains the architects had to prebuild the house in 40 separate pieces and fly them up by helicopter to be assembled like a giant puzzle.
The second home is on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, a region known for its warm climate and Italian influences. Piers and Caroline cycle into the hills to find House in Brissago. Owner Reto Rietmann wanted a concrete house built on a steep hill and his architects delivered a striking home that looks like a stone monolith. The heart of the building is a two-storey courtyard with trees and water. Windows provide massive views and a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen 'float' hundreds of feet over the lake.
House number three lies just outside Zurich. Owners Stefan and Anna couldn't afford a home by the lake, so they bought an odd-shaped, neglected plot sandwiched between a road and a railway line. Architect Stefan designed Flex House, a remarkable s-shaped building with wide walls of glass, ribbon-like curves of concrete and slender steel columns. Looking nothing like its neighbours, 'It's total anarchy for Switzerland', says Piers.
The final property, Villa Am See, overlooks Lake Lucerne. Owner Adi, a Porsche obsessive, built his home around an underground garage for his 6 vintage cars. The house comprises three futuristic glass fronted concrete boxes positioned for optimum views. It's an extraordinary man-cave cut into rock with giant rooms, a fitness zone, a cinema and a pool cantilevered over the hillside.