Stunning homes built into nature

From Albert Frey’s house built into a mountain to John Lautner’s iconic Sheats-Goldstein residence in L.A., these structures take the term ‘back to nature’ to another level.

If there is one architect who arguably pioneered the concept of building cool houses into natural landscapes, it’s Frank Lloyd Wright. The serene Fallingwater home in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, made a serious case for living in nature, and since the house was erected in 1935, plenty of architects have taken a page from Wright’s book.

What’s more, so many decades after Wright’s revolution, the technology has made impossible-seeming projects a reality. From a supremely modern cross-shaped residence carved into a giant boulder in the Saudi Arabian desert to a glass box built into the edge of a Canadian cliff, these special houses seem more like liveable art. Let’s take a look at avant-garde homes that coexist with nature in a big way.

Mill Run, Pennsylvania

Frank Lloyd Wright is rightfully one of the Mid-Century Modernist movement’s most famous architects. His buildings, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Unity Temple Oak Park, and his own winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona, are some of the most beloved from the era when clean lines and organic materials reigned. His Fallingwater house, however, is probably the most famous work he designed because it’s built over a natural waterfall on Bear Run.

Palm Springs, California

Though there are mid-century era homes scattered throughout the world, the biggest collection is in Palm Springs. Case in point: the Frey II house. Named for the Palm Springs local who designed it, American architect Albert Frey, the home served as his long-time residence.

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He built it into the hillside at the west end of Tahquitz Canyon Way. As its name implies, Frey House II was the architect’s second home in Palm Springs, and he moved in when it was finished in 1964.

British Columbia, Canada

Iranian architect Milad Eshtiyaghi designed what she calls the Mountain House between four pre-existing trees that added a bit of color to the rocky cliff on Quadra Island, a scenic stretch of land off the eastern coast of Vancouver. Though there are quite a few levels of the complex residence in the mountains, it’s highly organized: There are specific spaces for the parents and others for their son and his family, and the two are connected by way of a recreation area.

Joshua Tree, California

Kendrick Bangs Kellogg took a few notes while working under Frank Lloyd Wright.

Kellog’s Doolittle House in Joshua Tree took nearly two decades to complete, given the difficult terrain, for artist Bev Doolittle and her husband, Jay.

The 4,643-square-foot home rises up out of the California desert like an arachnid, its stony spines hovering in the landscape like a UFO just about to settle down.

It should also theoretically feel menacing. Yet the house is both discreet and, once you’re inside, surprisingly cozy. It was these factors that attracted writer Kristopher Dukes and her Facebook executive husband Matt Jacobson to it when they first came to view it in 2015.

“It looked like a desert mirage,” reflects Dukes. “I couldn’t believe that something so radical and beautiful could actually be built.”

Hegra, Saudi Arabia

“When I first saw the images of rock cut-tomb architecture of Madain Saleh in Saudi Arabia, I knew I had to use it as an inspiration in an architectural project,” designer Amey Kandalgaonkar says.

That project became the House Inside a Rock in the desert of Saudi Arabia. Considering the visual complexity of the rocks at Madain Saleh, she kept things simple in terms of shape and composition. In fact, much of the house was designed with 3D software. It was imperative to use simple planes and cubes in order to achieve a visual balance.

“When inserting the house into this rock, I tried to keep its visual impact from eye-level at minimum as possible. The real extent of the intervention is revealed only when observed from a bird’s eye,” Kandalgaonkar adds.

Mendocino, California

With her myriad houses in the air, Iranian architect Milad Eshtiyaghi has proven that she is not afraid of heights. This home, hanging off the edge of a cliff in Mendocino, was specifically designed to give the residents a touch of fear and a lot of excitement.

She admits that, even within a home like this, there’s still a sense of calm because it’s so connected to the surrounding nature. To ensure it won’t slide off the cliff, she used a cable system: The elevated cables bear the weight of the home while the lower ones withstand lateral and upward winds.

Los Angeles, California

One of the most daring architects of the Mid-Century Modernist movement is, without a doubt, John Lautner. The majority of his unique projects are scattered throughout the Golden State, but L.A. is where the most considerable collection lies.

Perhaps his most famous creation is the Malin House, known lovingly as the Chemosphere because it was designed for Leonard Malin, an aerospace engineer. What’s more, the one-story Chemosphere seemingly balances on a 29-foot tall, five-foot-wide concrete column that’s pitched into a steeply sloped hill. Nearly as impressive as the outrageous architecture are the views of the San Fernando Valley, which are accessible from windows on all sides.

Vancouver, Canada

With a contemporary bridge in mind, Milad Eshtiyaghi designed this bright white home above a chasm separating two cliffs in Vancouver. Unlike a traditional two-story house, this one has air flowing between the levels, which are accessible via an elevator and a set of exterior stairs. As for the aqua-colored glass, that’s a rooftop pool.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Perched within two matte black brackets, a box-like residence boasts unparalleled views of the surrounding red rock mountains. Iranian Milad Eshtiyaghi designed this residence to look simply but there’s actually a lot to it: On the roof, there’s a long expanse of space for sunbathing, beneath the home, there’s a structure – complete with a glass floor – to admire the views, and on either end of the house, there are floor-to-ceiling windows.

Calgary, Canada

LAAV Architects’s raw concrete, glass, and black steel Maralah is an isolation cabin and a tribute to both Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lautner. The architects created a delicate-looking structure that’s both submerged within a rocky cliff and cantilevered off its edge. Perhaps the best room in the 145-square-foot house is the bedroom, which has a direct view of the azure-hued Bow River beneath it. From the outside, Maralah is clearly a perfect square, but from certain angles, it looks as though it’s part of the cliff, with gentle ruggedness everywhere. And the slopped, almost covered roof blends seamlessly with the environment.

Los Angeles, California

Built into a sandstone ledge of a hillside in L.A., John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein residence was designed between 1961 and 1963, the peak of the modernist design movement in the U.S. In typical Lautner fashion, the home is completely unexpected, designed from the inside out to prioritize the views of the valley beneath it. He didn’t want the house to disrupt the forest in which it stands, so he kept the exterior architecture – almost cave-like – and covered it in glass, allowing it to blend in with its surroundings.

Beckham Creek Cave House, Arkansas

The structure was originally built in the early 1980s as a bomb shelter. It has four bedrooms, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and especially an indoor waterfall sourced from an “under-the-floor spring originating from deep within the heart of the cave,” along with its own geothermal heating system.

In the living room, guests can enjoy a movie or seven in the giant 75-inch LED television mounted into the cavern’s walls.

Outside the home there is a barn, along with an apartment above the horse stables, a helicopter landing pad – because who doesn’t need one of those – and a spring-fed lake.

The entire place is nestled inside a natural cavern deep within the Ozarks, making this a retreat perfect for a nature lover.

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