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Rural England, UK – Alain de Botton invites you to bed down with an architect

Five stellar architects reinvent the English country house

Tucked away in the country’s sleepiest corners, five of the most startling houses to have been built in Britain in the past century are currently under construction. These buildings, which include a dramatic cantilevered take on the traditional British barn and a raised house beside the sea, are the work of five international architects: MVRDV from the Netherlands, Peter Zumthor from Switzerland, Jarmund/Vigsnæs Architects from Norway, and NORD Architecture and Hopkins Architects from the UK.

The houses have been commissioned not for the private use of a wealthy individual, but by a not-for-profit organisation, Living Architecture, which will open their doors to all comers. Staying in these houses (located in Suffolk, Norfolk, Devon and Kent) will cost between £1,200 and £3,000 a week, which can break down to a reasonable £20 per person per night if you have the maximum number of guests.

Living Architecture’s mission statement is to get as many people as possible to immerse themselves in and (hopefully) appreciate good architecture.

’As Alain de Botton, the organisation’s creative director, says, ‘While there are examples of great buildings in Britain, they tend to be in places one passes through, such as airports or museums.’ Actually bedding down in these spaces will offer occupants a greater depth of experience, ‘a personal sensory connection over a few days and nights’

De Botton is, of course, the author and philosopher behind many books, including The Architecture of Happiness (Hamish Hamilton, 2006). This book explores how the quality of our built environment affects our wellbeing, and this project is another facet of the same investigation.

Ideas of ‘good architecture’ or ‘quality architecture’ are highly subjective, but I would challenge anyone not to be buoyed by the experience of visiting MVRDV’s Balancing Barn as I recently did. Although it was far from completed (that is due in October), even the bare bones of a building that shoots out from a Suffolk hillside, without any seeming care for structural support, were a thrilling sight.

The team behind Living Architecture, which includes Mark Robinson (a project manager who worked on many Serpentine Pavilions) and Dickon Robinson (a former director of development at the Peabody Trust), hope that the long-reaching effects of their ‘social enterprise’ will be a shift in Britain’s notoriously backward approach to forward-thinking architecture.

‘Broadly speaking, we’re hoping to change the debates about the merits of contemporary architecture,’ says de Botton, who must surely be tempted to invite Prince Charles and the Emir of Qatar to be among the first guests when doors open in October. More specifically, he adds, they are ‘hoping that property developers will see our success and be encouraged to take the risk of commissioning more high-quality homes.’ Living Architecture’s aims are lofty, but the idea of fighting the cause of good architecture by doing little more than going on holiday is without doubt an appealing one.

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