Sky's the Limit: The 3,000-square-foot minimalist concrete residence by Chilean duo Pezo von Ellrichshausen.
The remote region of Matarraña, Spain, a two-hour drive from Barcelona, is an unlikely setting for some very forward-thinking architecture—but it's where a dozen emerging studios (Didier Faustino, Sou Fujimoto, Studio Mumbai, and others) are reinventing the concept of the second home in sparsely populated wilderness.
The project is inspired by the Case Study Houses, a postwar effort in which the likes of Richard Neutra and Charles Eames built a series of sleek residences in Los Angeles that aimed to remake the modern suburb. Whereas those buildings sought to minimize expense and ease the housing boom set off by returning soldiers, the architects involved in the Solo Houses are not bound by any theoretical considerations. "The idea was to give them complete freedom," says Christian Bourdais, the Paris-based developer behind the project, which will roll out over the next three years. "No restrictions. Preconceived ideas had to be forgotten."
Last June, the Chilean firm Pezo von Ellrichshausen completed the first house, a spare concrete structure that, perched on a platform, offers sweeping views of the surrounding pine forests and mountainous ravines. And this being a vacation house, after all, there's a pool in the center, recalling a classical courtyard. The New York City-based studio MOS was inspired by the medieval ruins that dot the landscape.
Michael Meredith, one of the firm's founders, says Bourdais' no-strings-attached approach made him "more of a patron than a client." It's a comparison that Bourdais would almost certainly welcome. "My clients have a special relationship with these houses," he says. "It's a similar experience with a painting."
Perhaps this idea of a building as collectible bauble was inevitable, as architects and artists cross-pollinate year-round, from the Venice Biennale to Art Basel Miami Beach. And if you're the type of person who'll drop $175,000 for a Sol Lewitt at New York's Armory Show in March, then the nearly $1 million an anonymous buyer spent to snap up the first of these houses might seem like a pretty good deal.
Renderings from top left, clockwise: A circular home by the Belgian firm Office KGDVS. A sculptural assemblage by the French architect Didier Faustino. Studio MOS's playful study in geometry has open courtyards "that focus on the view and still feel like part of the landscape," says the firm's cofounder Michael Meredith.