May 18, 2010

World's Wildest Houses

These outlandish structures display architectural humor and prankishness. And some of them are darned well-designed, too.

Bubble House - Tourettes-sur-Loup, France

This bulbous structure isn't even 40 years old yet, but it's already been designated an historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture. Designed by organic architect Antti Lovag, the home features panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and celestial views at night. A garden at the center of the home features a waterfall and stream with palm trees and exotic vegetation. Inside, space-saving furniture, cupboards, and shelving are built into the home. Believe it or not, this is not a unique property; Lovag has designed three others—including one for fashion designer Pierre Cardin—along the same coast.

Toilet-Shaped House - Suwon, South Korea

The late mayor of Suwon, South Korea, Sim Jae-Duck, built his loo-shaped, two-story home to mark the 2007 inaugural meeting of the World Toilet Association. Jae-Duck—reportedly born in a restroom—made it his life's work to advocate for clean, efficient, and working sanitation for more than 2 billion people living without toilets worldwide. The 4,520-square-foot steel, concrete, and glass structure set "Mayor Toilet" back a cool $1.1 million. It features a showcase, glass-walled bathroom at it's center. Those concerned with privacy can turn the walls opaque at the touch of a button. The home also features a roof-top balcony that's accessible by a "toilet drain" staircase and equipped with rainwater harvesting technology.

Tsui House - Berkeley, California

This home may look familiar to you if you know anything about Tardigrades—microscopic animals said to be the world's most indestructible living creatures. The 2000-square-foot Tardigrade-shaped residence was designed by Eugene Tsui to be "the world's safest house." Its aerodynamic shape and Ener-grid Block construction, which utilizes recycled Styrofoam and cement blocks reinforced with steel and concrete, is meant to improve the home's fire and wind resistance. Shelving and cabinetry are built into the structure to lessen the likelihood of falling or breaking pieces in the event of an earthquake. According to the designer's site, walls are angled inward at 4 degrees to "create a compressive structure with a low center of gravity further aiding in resistance to lateral turnover forces produced by strong earthquakes."

Pickle-Barrel House -Grand Marais, Michigan

This larger-than-life pickle barrel, which recently underwent a $50,000 restoration, was originally built in 1926 by the Pioneer Cooperage Company as a summer home for cartoonist William Donahey. Donahey, the creator of the Chicago Tribune's popular "Teenie Weenie" cartoon strip, also drew advertisements for pickle-peddlers Reid-Murdock & Co., who sold their product in a much smaller version of the barrel you see here. The Grand Marais Historical Society acquired the property in December 2003, and it was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places shortly thereafter. It's currently open to the public.

Upside-Down House -Szymbark, Poland

This structure was built by Polish philanthropist and designer Daniel Czapiewski to serve as a constant reminder of "wrong-doings against humanity" and the backwardness of the world. Poland's former Communist rule inspired the project, as Czapiewski thought all decisions being made at the time were detached from reality. Tourists have waited for as many as 6 hours to get into the two-story crooked and upside-down house, which features furniture hanging from above. The workmen finished building it in 114 days, despite taking constant breaks to quell nausea and dizziness. The bizarre design regularly leaves visitors feeling seasick as well.

Cave House -Festus, Missouri

This space was a limestone and sandstone mining site in the 1800s. In 1960, the cave was converted into a roller rink, where Ted Nugent and Bob Seger performed. Curt Sleeper bought the cave and its surrounding three acres in 2004 for about $160,000. He spent another $150,000 to make the cave into his family's hardwood floored, three-bedroom home. When they ran into mortgage trouble, the Sleeper family put their home up for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $300,000. Luckily, the Sleepers were eventually able to refinance and keep their cave.

Solaleya Domespace Homes - Anywhere

Solaleya's futuristic Domespace homes have been around for more than 20 years, but they're still ahead of the curve. These custom builds can be ordered in four varieties, including the Harmonique famous rotative house. The entire structure rotates, allowing homeowners to make the most of the sun's warmth for lower utility bills. It's a biconvex structure that’s raised from the ground, providing a shield from moisture and ground radioactivity. All windows in the unit face the sky, allowing for optimal natural luminosity. Safe home qualities include resistance to high-magnitude earthquakes and high winds. The homes are available in sizes ranging from 656 square feet to 6,307 square feet.

UFO House - Chattanooga, Tennessee

This home was built by the late Curtis W. King in 1970, around the time the original Star Trek series ended. It sits on a road leading to Chattanooga's Signal Mountain and features a retractable staircase, like any good UFO should. The three-bedroom, two-bath house was sold in 2008 for $130,900, after Cleveland, Tennessee's Crye-Leike Auctions posted it for sale on eBay.

Dune House - Atlantic Beach, Florida

This $1.85 million duplex, circa 1975, was built into a dune created by 1964's Hurricane Dora. Seeking sites to build rental properties, Harvard-trained architect William Morgan decided to build inside of the dune instead of on top of it. Now Morgan is looking to sell the property—consisting of twin 750-square-foot units and built-in furnishings—to a buyer that will value its green features, including energy-saving natural climate control. This winter when the outside temperature was freezing, the interior of the Dune House was a pleasant 72 degrees

Cookie Jar House Glendora, New Jersey

John Dobbins' cozy three-story home was built in 1947 and meant to be the first in a series of similar houses. The other cookie jar houses were never built, but this one still stands, with a spiral staircase at the center of the house. The jar's "lid" functions as a widow's walk. The unique house is said to be the only cookie jar house in the U.S., and perhaps that's no wonder: Dobbins has admitted to having difficulty furnishing the cornerless house.

Hovercraft House Albuquerque, New Mexico

This Bart Prince design was built in 1984 as the Albuquerque native architect's residence and studio. Its top-level sleeping quarters feature curved, south-facing glazing for passive solar benefits. The lower-level studio and workspace were built into the ground, behind an earth berm, for noise reduction and privacy. The 1990 addition of a masonry tower provided added space for a library and storage

Shoe House -Hellam, Pennsylvania

We'll spare you the "old woman who lived in a shoe" jokes. This three-bedroom, two-bath house was built in 1948 as an advertisement ploy for Mahlon N. Haines' shoe business. It was originally used as a guesthouse where "elderly couples were invited to stay for a weekend and live like kings and queens at Haines' expense." It is now owned by Haines' granddaughter Ruth Miller and is open to the public

Chair House -West Creek, New Jersey

This beautiful 1873 Second Empire has a chair on its roof, and no one's certain why. According to Roadside America the chair was placed there as a gag by a previous owner. Weird NJ speculates the chair was a sign to passing sailors that indicated they could stop to rest at the house. Another urban legend states the chair was placed there to calm a spirit that violently haunted the property.

Sliding House Suffolk, England

Built as a residence for one of its dRMM architects, this house is composed of three glass-paneled buildings beneath a sliding engineered timber shell. The outer layer is constructed atop recessed tracks and can shift to respond to climate and the position of the sun, or human preference. Imagine the pranks this owner can play on first-time visitors.

Volcano Houses Cappadocia, Turkey

This multistory home really is organic architecture. It's one of many homes carved out of rocks created by the volcanic ash of now-extinct Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan in Turkey. The hollowed rocks initially served as homes and chapels for early Christians around the 7th century. More recently, Turkish farmers inhabited the structures, which can have as many as 10 floors.

Pyramid House Wadsworth, Illinois

Guess what contractor Jim Onan was into when he started building this 24-karat-gold-plated, 17,000-square-foot house in 1977? His interest in Egyptology spiked in the 1960s. Onan, who lived in the pyramid house with his family for a time, eventually added enormous statues to the pyramid’s lot (including a 50-foot likeness of King Tut) and lined his driveway with 80 stone sphinxes. The place was opened to paying visitors from 1978 to 1981, but it's now a private residence that sits behind closed iron gates and a moat.

Crooked House Windsor, United Kingdom

The Crooked House of Windsor, also known as the Market Cross House, was built in 1592. It features a now-blocked secret passageway that leads to Windsor Castle and is said to have been used for trysts between King Charles II and his mistress. The house didn't start to tilt until 1718 after it was restructured with unseasoned green oak. The building now functions as a tea house for patrons who don't mind sitting at a bit of an angle; the crooked floors were never leveled.

Mushroom House Cincinnati, Ohio

This house was built by the late Terry Brown, professor of architecture and interior design at the University of Cincinnati. The one-bedroom house sits in the otherwise traditional Hyde Park section of Cincinnati. Named for its siding that resembles the underside of a mushroom, the house was originally a run-of-the-mill bungalow. The additions and enhancements—made with wood, colored glass, seashells, and other such materials—comprised an ongoing project in organic design that lasted from 1992 to 2006. Shortly after, it was listed for sale at $525,000.

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