Architecture often finds itself at war with nature; the need for mass development or commercial opportunismcan lead to what is commonly described as “blights on the landscape”. Elemental Living is a celebration of exceptional and ingenious contemporary houses that blend in with, draw upon and respond to their natural surroundings, an architecture that is “in conversation with its context”, as the introduction to Elemental Living puts it.
The book is divided into three categories; houses built to look at nature, houses built within nature and houses built with nature. A fine example of the first is Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house, in Plano, Illinois. It was built in 1951 as a weekend retreat for Dr Edith Farnsworth and is a landmark in modern architecture’s efforts to integrate interior spaces with their immediate environment.
It’s an elevated structure - van der Rohe anticipated, correctly as it turned out, that the nearby Fox River was liable to break its banks and flood. With eight beams supplying support between the floor slabs and the roof, and walls made almost entirely of glass, this is a house entirely exposed. However, situated as it is in secluded woodland, surrounded by trees, privacy is not an issue.
Farnsworth House is an example of how beauty can be achieved through simplicity. Despite its minimal decor and uncluttered design, it has a unique and enviable air of exclusivity. It sits unobtrusively in its surroundings while drawing full advantage of them.
For more on this and many other splendidly isolated examples of fine architecture order your copy of Elemental Living here; and, for more on Mies, consider comphrensive overview, here.