Star Chambers

Renting an architectural masterpiece just got a whole lot easier.


“Holiday homes in the UK are generally a disaster: drafty, ancient, leaking, with strange hairs on the pillow, and no showers,” says philosopher and cultural critic Alain de Botton, who is known for his meditations on, among other things, the intersection of design and happiness. “I realized that if I cared so much about architecture, writing was a coward’s way out; the real challenge was to build.” And so, last October, de Botton launched Living Architecture, an organization that rents vacation houses in Britain designed by avant-garde world-class architects. So far, the completed houses have been fully booked. Norwegian architects Jarmund/Vigsnæs’s Dune House, in Thorpeness, for example, has an extravagantly dormered roofline that floats above a glassy ground floor. Dutch studio MVRDV’s Balancing Barn, in Thorington (above), which from the driveway appears to be a tiny, pitched-roof cottage, extends to a depth of nearly 100 feet, half of it cantilevered over a grassy knoll. And Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s Secular Retreat, in Devon, slated for 2012, promises the serenity of a modern-day monastery. Hallelujah! (

Photo: courtesy of Living Architecture