Domus Aurea, Alberto Campo Baeza and GLR Arquitectos, 2016, Monterrey, Mexico.
Photo: Javier Callejas,

55 Extraordinary Homes on the Water

Architects respond to the challenge of designing a home around the temperamental element

Living on Water ($49.95, Phaidon). Photo: Phaidon

“I see the shoreline as a magic line between two realms,” Seattle architect Tom Kundig tells Galerie, reflecting on his approach to designing homes around water. “I try as much as possible to engage that line so that there’s a sense of water and a sense of land in virtually every room.”

One project that embodies this philosophy is the Pole Pass Retreat, located on one of Washington’s scenic San Juan Islands. Occupying a prime waterfront parcel and clad in charred cedar, the striking home is just one of 55 featured in a new book from Phaidon called Living on Water, which showcases how the world’s top contemporary architects are gracefully solving the age-old challenge of designing a home on or around various bodies of water, be it an ocean, a river, or even a man-made oasis.

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Aside from featuring the work of Kundig’s firm Olson Kundig, the title also includes projects from other top-tier talent, including architects John Pawson, Alberto Campo Baeza, Tadao Ando, and David Chipperfield. Spread across 26 countries—from Kenya to Japan—the residences are divided into three sections: houses built on water, houses built to reflect water, and houses built to look at water.

Pole Pass Retreat, Olson Kundig, 2013, San Juan Islands, Washington. Photo: Benjamin Benschneider

While there is no denying that water has the potential to be a powerfully destructive force, one need only look at the sky-high prices on waterfront homes for proof of their perennial appeal. “Water especially can symbolize survival at a deep, humanistic level,” says Kundig. “The bottom line is, we often find beauty in places and experiences that offer a sense of balance to our natural state.”

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“I think the reason we are drawn to that ecotone line between land and water, with big expansive views of water and sky ahead of us, and the protection of forest, cliffs, or mountains behind us, is based in our human condition. It’s a place where we find balance between prospect and refuge.”

See below for a few of the standout homes featured in the book.

Cliff House, Khosla Associates, 2010. Kerala, India. Photo: © Bharath Ramamrutham, Courtesy Khosla Associates
Newberg Residence, Cutler Anderson Architects, 2013, Newberg, Oregon. Photo: Jeremy Bittermann
The House on the Cliff, GilBartolomé Architects, 2015, Granada, Spain. Photo: Jesús Granada
Pole House, F2 Architecture, 2017, Fairhaven, Australia. Photo: Tanja Milbourne
House Over the Sea, Elliott + Elliott Architecture, 2014. Surry, Maine. Photo: © Trent Bel
White Cave House, Takuro Yamamoto Architects, 2013, Kanazawa, Japan. Photo: Ken’ichi Suzuki
Exbury Egg, PAD Studio, SPUD Group, and Stephen Turner, 2013, Beaulieu River, Hampshire, UK. Photo: Nigel Rigden
Manshausen Island Resert, Stinessen Arkitektur, 2015, Manshausen, Norway. Photo: Siggen Stinessen
Watershed Lodge, Hughes Umbanhowar Architects (HUUM), 2013, Big Timber, Montana. Photo: Gibeon Photography
Tulia House, Alberto Morell, 2015. Kilifi, Kenya. Photo: © Javier Callejas,
House in Brissago, Wespi de Meuron Romeo Architects, 2013, Brissago, Switzerland. Photo: © Hannes Henz Architekturfotograf
Domus Aurea, Alberto Campo Baeza and GLR Arquitectos, 2016, Monterrey, Mexico. Photo: Javier Callejas,
Cover: Domus Aurea, Alberto Campo Baeza and GLR Arquitectos, 2016, Monterrey, Mexico.
Photo: Javier Callejas,


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