The Invisible Building

November 2020

What if we couldn’t see the building on a site? This could be the task of architects in the country. Let’s make them invisible through dressing them in cloaks of greenery. Like the mirror houses in Sweden, where the green is reflected everywhere and seem invisible and yet are very obviously made of glass when they reflect the sun, or when the birds fly into them (observed by Jennifer Frewen). The house should be the tree perhaps.


The trees should take preference with the landscape, and birds and their nests, since we are treading on their territory, rather than the other way around. Why do we allow nature to be draped around the house as another commodity, just enough to balance it with the square footage of the house itself.

Burwood, starting to merge with the landscape

The writer/​Architect Adolf Loos wrote: but the architects have the wall.’ In a rant against designers and decorators who obscured the wall with large furniture items and decorations. But now architects have trees? Have architects been afraid too long to rant and take sides and be moralistic, rather than go with the flow? Has innovation and daring taken over everything else?

I first wrote about houses and their place in the landscape in 2015 and we are all moving on: climate crisis has prompted an interest in sustainable building and solar panels and ground source heat pumps and other alternatives to fuel. However, clients are still told to maximise the m2 of the site. Scale, or lack of it is also an environmental issue.

We need more awareness of the impact a building has on its environment visually during the day as well as at night. Before planning permission we encourage clients to check the sight lines around their future home and consider the impact of it on the surrounding landscape. How much space is left around the building for trees and nature? If not much one can reduce the space of the house perhaps: Could people sleep in small guest rooms? Could guestrooms double as a study: does one need to have a large toilet? Or is it more interesting to have a few large spaces that look larger because the surrounding bedrooms and loos are smaller. In the Alhambra in Grenada the Large Patios are connected with small passages: the contrast makes the patios seem larger. 

The early modern houses of Le Corbusier, and E1027 by Eileen Gray and the Rietveld Schroeder house were modest in scale. They explored a different use of space: they doubling up functions, and used smaller furniture in order to make the houses seem larger than they were. Eileen Grey used foldable furniture that could change in function. Windows were used as an expansion of the interior as well as to blur distinctions between interior and exterior. The Sonneveld House, for the director of the Van Nelle Factory, built in 1933 by the firm Brinkman and van der Vlugt had all furniture made: the furniture is small and flexible and the house feels therefore larger than it is. 



Traditional arts and crafts and cottages were also originally small and are blown up out of proportion to combine modern wishes; large private bathrooms and kitchen islands, with the required arts and crafts look. The two don’t necessarily go together. Cottages are small by nature. Low thatched roofs look just right in a landscape and don’t compete with the surrounding trees. Scaled up, however, they will always look wrong: too high, and oddly proportioned. [ Large country houses were designed with the landscaping around them and there were only a few. traditionally have enough land around them to balance architecture and nature.]

Traditional Cornish Cottage – new build, living in harmony with the surroundings and with traditional materials. 


The last impact on the environment is light: make sure the windows have curtains at night. Darkness is nurturing for nature. Glow worms, bats and owls all thrive in the dark. 

After the current pandemic, where we had a glimpse of nature we hadn’t enjoyed in almost fifty years, people want to move to the countryside. Please if you move to the country try to not take too much of the city with you and look at the elements of the country you want to preserve and embrace before you commence building.