House: Black Swan Theory is a compilation of writings about fifteen houses designed by Steven Holl Architects between 1986 and 2006. It is a sequel of sorts to a previously published work called Anchoring. House: Black Swan Theory also comes with a counterpart, Urbanism. While “Urbanisms” presents what Holl refers to as the “macro” scale, this book is all about the “micro” scale, which here refers to tiny houses. As such, the book catalogue is ordered from smallest to largest.

“If there’s going to be another movement, another direction in architecture, it has to engage people differently. Other than saying, here, look at this; isn’t this amazing? It has to involve them other than as spectators interactively…it has to engage them as creators.”- Lebbeus Woods.

Steven Holl is a well-known name in the architecture world. Unlike contemporaries like Zaha Hadid, his designs are rarely self-similar. Identifying an architect’s philosophy embedded in their materials takes a closer or broader perspective. Like a camera lens, it feels necessary to zoom our field of perception in and out. Otherwise, we risk missing subtleties that are finally exposed when, at the right angle, or light, the perfectly focused image appears. Change your position from the object, and the whole process repeats. Each photograph is different, as is every angle from which we observe space.

The houses presented in the book are spread worldwide, erected in locations as beaming with life as they are isolating. These houses present a central ideal of Holl’s ‘Black Swan Theory’, which entails working from the specific to the universal – in a field that does mainly the opposite. This comes into play in the relationship between the structures and the spaces they inhabit, “illuminat[ing] the singularity of a specific situation.” His ideology is metamorphosed; the architect’s idea manifests in space and light. This surrender makes the work presented in this book live up to its title; it is unpredictable and surprisingly unique in this post-modern world.

The Swiss Residence | Black Swan Theory

This house is that of the Swiss Ambassador to the United States, sitting on a hill overlooking the Washington Monument in the distance. A diagonal line directs the space, using passive solar energy in the south façade. The house brings some Swiss landscape into the American location, with charcoal-tone concrete and white grass. It is an approximation of said landscape without being an imitation, something like a memory, a distorted yet enjoyable experience of something known, like snow.

Book in Focus: Steven Holl House: Black Swan Theory - Sheet1
The Swiss Residence_©Steven Holl Architects

Stretto House

This house is about water; it shapes water around it as much as water. Reflections of the sun in the pool and the pond find their way into the home, crawling up the roofs as the light of the day moves. The house moves in four sections; the rectilinear masonry is sliced at the top by the curved, light-looking metal. Curves and straight lines give this house a pleasant contradiction: the plan is curvilinear, and the elevation is orthogonal.

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Stretto House_©Steven Holl Architects.

Sun Slice House | Black Swan Theory

Located on Lake Garda, this house is designed to “frame slices of sunlight”. The owner, a lighting company, experiments with and lives around artificial light. This weekend home for him and his family offers a different take on light, making the sun’s movement the key to its design. The house is a compilation of cubes with slices taken off in critical places to let the light enter. The north façade, however, is made of glass, offering a clear view of Lake Garda.

The steel and concrete materials are sheeted with an alloy of various metals, creating a reddish colour. The interior is white plaster, terrazzo and bamboo. The house is also the beneficiary of natural ventilation and geothermal heating/cooling.

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Sun Sliced House_©Steven Holl Architects.

Ten more houses are shown in this book alongside those mentioned above. Each is a unique example of the Black Swan Theory as described by architect Steven Holl. Each is a journey in time/space/light/concept awaiting you, the reader.

Writing With Light House

This house takes from local inspiration, not of nature but from another New York building: the studio of painter Jackson Pollock. Free-form sketches of the house initially emerged as a space-light translation of one of Pollock’s paintings: There Were Seven in Eight. In painting, as in architecture, the artist is tasked with creating something in space that contains an undefinable otherness. That something is what grabs us and transforms the world around us. The inspiration that the house takes from the artist is subtle in its form. We might expect a swirl of lines and an excess splash of colour, but we are greeted by straight lines uniformly spreading over an open wooden frame, which preserves its natural wooden hue.

Book in Focus: Steven Holl House- Sheet3
Writing With Light House_©Steven Holl Architects.

Porosity House | Black Swan Theory

This house explores the moment in which light and darkness meet. This “penumbra” is of an ever-changing quality. The natural light changes, and the building absorbs this effect through its “pores”, accentuating the transition from darkness to lightness and everything in between. This offers the viewer variation from strong shadows to dim ones to brief overlapping moments. It breathes light.

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Sliced Porosity Block, China _©Steven Holl Architects.


1_The Swiss Residence_Steven Holl Architects. [online] Available at: 

2_Stretto House_Steven Holl Architects. [online] Available at: 

3_Writing With Light House_Steven Holl Architects.[online] Available at: 

4_Sliced Porosity Block, China _Steven Holl Architects. [online] Available at: 

5_Sun Sliced House_Steven Holl Architects. [online] Available at: 


Hammond, D. (2020) How ancient mayan architecture shaped Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School, Newcity Design. Available at: (Accessed: December 4, 2022). 

Holl, Steven. (2007). House Black Swan Theory. Princeton Architectural Press. 


G. C. Reyes is a classically trained artist and architecture student from Miami, Florida currently working in New Jersey. She enjoys 3D printing and design and thinking about the architecture of the future. Some of her favorite artists include Louis Kahn, Steven Holl, Marina Abramovich, and Leonard Cohen.