To respect the environment, there are houses that rise, others that are buried, there are those that are camouflaged and some lookout. They all change, like the vegetation itself.

Getting closer to nature and trying to live next to it also means protecting yourself from it. That is why shelters or large houses, built among vegetation assume that paradox: to celebrate nature is to take care of it and understand that it does not belong to us, we are the ones who belong to it.

Today, with more than half of the world’s population living in metropolises and with the cities of the planet claiming public spaces, the city has ceased to be defined as an opposition to nature. Vegetation has become both a necessity and a place with which architecture relearns to relate. Sometimes with humility and care and sometimes with the challenge of locating projects in seemingly impossible places. The book by the publisher Phaidon Living in Nature illustrates this coexistence between nature and architecture.

At the top of the mountain of Storfjellet, in Norway, the designers of the Spinn studio and the engineers of the Format team created Varden, a refuge inspired by the multiple facets of the rocky mountain. This house is sculptural and practical at the same time. The Norwegian Hikers Association commissioned it to promote the routes at Hammerfest – the northernmost point on the planet, a place known as the best to contemplate the light of the North – and the architects studied the area with drones.

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Varden, cabin in Norway_©Tor Even Mathisen

Today the eroded-shaped cabin is built with 77 pieces of wood that fit like a puzzle to form a shell that could remind us of a rock. Each of the pieces was produced with a 3D printer and, before placing it at the top, was tested to assess its resistance to the weight of snow and the force of the wind. With the technical requirements met, the cabin was built and divided into two halves for a group of volunteers to install it on top. Funded by crowdfunding, professional builders only intervened in the foundation and insulation of the finish.

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Interior of Varden, cabin in Norway, with a sunset view_©Tor Even Mathisen

Nature shelters and transforms us as much or more than what we try to transform it. That is why in Aculco, northwest of Mexico City, the house that Pérez Palacios Arquitectos built for two brothers is designed to remain open, in contact with the place. 

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Pérez Palacios Architects house_©Rafael Gamo

Built with stone from a nearby quarry and with wood and mud from the land itself, the austere and resounding house is perceived as a light construction thanks to the large windows that open to the landscape giving all the prominence to the place. Above ornaments or architectural resources, it is precisely the light and the views that enter that turn the spaces into luxurious corners. Nature contrasts with the austerity of materials. 

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Interior of the Pérez Palacios Architects house _©Rafael Gamo

Its exuberance clashes with the ornamental sobriety of the house. With two bedrooms around a central space and a bathroom, the house is not large, but the porches multiply the space without leaving a mark on the landscape. The bedroom above the bathroom tilts the plane of the roof and that gesture manages to protect it from the rain.

When architecture understands the place, it tries to take care of the landscape, limiting the trace of its intervention, camouflaging its presence or building with local materials, as happens in the tree house that Jim Olson and Tom Kundig created using ancestor wood (the rain tree) from the tropical forest of Santa Teresa, on the edge of the Costa Rican Pacific coast.

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The treehouse is Located next to Santa Teresa’s Playa Hermosa, and can be accessed through a suspended bridge connecting the top floor with the hillside, as well as via the ground-level entrance. _©Nic Lehoux

With three square floors stacked, the house is like a beach cabin converted into a tower. The architects chose to stack instead of extend to minimize the footprint of their architecture. It integrates into the forest and gets views as if it were a tree. Here you eat and cook next to the floor, you can see the place from the upper floor and you sleep sheltered, on the floor that is in the middle. The wooden slats do not fit completely to achieve natural ventilation. A photovoltaic plate and rainwater collectors complete the facilities of this tree house built and grown in the forest.

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Interior of the treehouse. _©Nic Lehoux

Nature demands humility while proposing challenges. On the ridge of Le Morion, in the Aosta Valley, the temperature can reach -20 degrees Celsius and the winds reach 200 kilometres per hour. It is in that impossible place where a climber may need shelter.

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The altitude of the site demanded a simple and efficient construction. _©Adele Muscolino

Precisely for this reason, a cabin designed by Roberto Dini and Stefano Girodo is named after the architect and mountaineer Luca Pasqualetti. With steel ribs and base – so that the shelter resists the force of the wind and, if necessary, to be able to remove it without damaging the mountain – the cabin is lined with pine conglomerate panels and recycled polystyrene covered with aluminum. The construction, prefabricated, was assembled in a few hours and reached the top by helicopter. Its gabled roof imitates the top of the mountain itself and protects the interior, where a large window covered by a cantilever puts nature inside the cabin.

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A module of the cabin being transported to the site. _©Stefano Girodo

Not far from there, in the Italian province of Udine, is the oldest forest in Italy: Malborghetto Valbruna. Surrounding it with fir trees and larch trees, the architect Claudio Beltrame wanted his house to look like another tree, a pineapple – due to its oval shape – wrapped by curved larch modules that protect the facade and change colour.

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Pigna. The Treehouse, located inProvince of Udine, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy_©Architetto Beltrame Claudio

This house can only be reached on foot. The larch also lines the interior of the shelter, which is more reminiscent of a nest than a house. Even so, it has three floors, again to limit the footprint that architecture leaves in the place. The access is a viewpoint and contains large windows. The living, eating and cooking area is located in the central area. A bedroom with overhead light in the centre of the dome crowns the pineapple. It breaks contact with the environment and allows you to rest under the stars.

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Pigna. The Treehouse, view during the summer_©Architetto Beltrame Claudio

All in all, after seeing all these examples of architecture, it can be concluded that nature is us, it’s not just a framework that surrounds us. To relate with respect to it architects must design according to the surroundings, taking special care of what materials are being used, the shape of the construction, and having in mind what we are trying to achieve by building something in a certain environment. Only by doing these things can they both coexist in harmony.

<<Reference list >>

  • Crook, L., 2019. Spinn Arkitekter completes a wooden hiking cabin on Norwegian mountain. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 June 2022].
  • Interior Design – Inspiration. 2021. Aculco House by PPAA Pérez Palacios Arquitectos Asociados – Interior Design – Inspiration. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 June 2022].
  • Dowdy, C., 2019. Olson Kundig’s sustainable teak holiday house in Costa Rica. [online] Wallpaper*. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • Architizer. 2022. Pigna. The Treehouse by Architetto Beltrame Claudio. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • Baum Lagdameo, J., 2022. This Dizzying Prefab Is Perched on the Edge of the Italian Alps. [online] Dwell. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 June 2022].


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