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Three Sustainable Minimalist Buildings You’ll Want To Live In

By Jody McCutcheon

The term ‘clean living’ has recently entered the modern lexicon, and generally refers to eating pure, healthy food, and avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and toxins in grooming products. It’s good for human health, and the health of the planet.

But the term could also refer to a new, minimalist way of designing living spaces. Let’s call it ‘clean architecture’ – in other words, building design that’s minimal in materials, decor, and environmental impact, but high on style, for example. Below are three extraordinary sustainable minimalist buildings that offer not only inspiration, but accommodation: the first two are available for short-term stays for travellers.

Oculus Bungalow

Situated amidst lush grasslands of the Wind Power Park in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, the Oculus bungalow resides in the shadow of a windmill and serves as the guest quarters for the Park’s staff members and visiting engineers. Ecologically speaking, the Wind Power Park is a rich, thriving ecosystem swarming with a variety of bird species. The area is cultivated as a seasonal lagoon that’s flooded for three months of the year.

Conceived by Palinda Kannangara Architects, the low-budget dwelling offers a simple design that is consciously gentle on surrounding flora. The upper level contains two staff bedrooms and two guest bedrooms, each of which is ventilated at ceiling level and corner windows and graced with panoramic views of the surrounding lagoon landscape. Each bedroom has a connecting bathroom with open-air ventilation. All told, the four-bedroom, five-bath Airbnb property accommodates up to ten people.

What’s unique about the place is its aesthetic. While the upstairs is enclosed, the first floor is largely wall-free, consisting of a living and dining area, kitchen, caretaker’s quarters and even a shallow pond at the foot of a spiral staircase that connects to the upper floor. According to the architects, “The shallow pond at the core of the building, with varying water depths that catch the reflection of the windmill, acts as the eye of the oculus.” You might say it represents the lagoon’s seasonal flooding.

Finished with colours and patterns that blend into its surroundings, this 4.2m–tall, open-concept ground floor creates an intimate connection between the interior and the wild, open landscape. The dwelling’s floating roof, supported by steel props, creates an effect of lightness and a feeling of floating while reinforcing a sense of merging with the grasslands.

The Oculus bungalow was constructed from locally sourced materials, with simple furniture made from old, reclaimed materials. Microclimatic modulation helps the home assimilate into the tropical environment. As mentioned, most of the ground floor is open to the environment, so it receives all the comforts of cool evening lagoon breezes. The bedrooms employ glazing and timber screens for light and heat filtration, with inner glazed screens able to disappear into the walls, allowing for uninhibited views of one of the key aesthetic features, the surrounding landscape.

All images below courtesy Palinda Kannangara Architects

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Yoki House

Treehouses bring out the kid in everyone, right? Put another way, they evoke a sense of excitement and adventure. With that in mind, ArtisTree have added just such a dwelling to their eco-luxury retreat in Cypress Valley, just outside of Austin, Texas. The Yoki House is described as a “fully equipped private sanctuary” that’s ideal for rental by couples and families, artists and adventure seekers, as well as those looking to trade the city bustle for some peace, quiet and thought-collection time.

Snugly situated between two old-growth cypress trees, the 46.4 m2 treehouse is perched 7.5 m above a spring-fed creek that inspired the name, according to ArtisTree founder Will Beilharz. In fact, “yoki” is a Hopi Native American word for rain, and indeed, water is a main theme of the Yoki House, echoed in certain design elements, such as the soaking tub and the burbling brook twenty-five feet below.

The entirety comprises the treehouse and a separate bathhouse, connected by an eighteen-metre suspension bridge. The entrance to the main treehouse comes via a second story observation deck. From there, a spiral staircase leads down to a porch that’s ideal for sipping morning coffee or evening aperitif, reading a book or simply contemplating nature and our place in it. The bathhouse sits on the edge of a ravine and boasts floor-to-ceiling windows for birdwatching and stargazing from the luxurious comforts of the Onsen-style soaking tub.

As a whole, the Yoki House is a cozy, luxurious combination of Japanese minimalism and Turkish décor accents. Inside, seeing the large bedroom, secondary sleeping loft and living room with dining area and kitchenette, you’ll realize the treehouse doubles as a luxury hotel suite.

The minimalist design uses local, sustainable materials, including elm, spruce and cypress. Large windows allow for plenty of light, a mingling of interior and exterior and a feeling of immersion with the surrounding nature. A solar panel array and rainwater capture system allow for minimal use of grid-based energy. What adventurous soul doesn’t enjoy sleeping in the trees?

All images below courtesy of Artistree

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Upside-Down House

Okay, this one may not look so weird from the outside, but the moment you step through the front door, you’ll realize something’s odd. Why? Because you’re surrounded by bedrooms. Usually that’s the upstairs, right? Not in the Upside-Down House of Kew, Australia, designed by Melbourne firm Inbetween Architecture, where the bedrooms are located on the semi-subterranean ground floor.

As it now stands, this home is a drastic overhaul of a 1970s double-brick house that was too dark and aesthetically outdated. The original building’s sloping block and floor plan, with its traditional layout of ground floor living space and second-floor sleeping area, created a challenge with getting light into the downstairs living area. But rather than tear down and build from scratch—and incurring the ecological and financial costs from such a project—the architects chose to remodel around the existing structure.

The owning family wanted more daylight and family-friendly space, so naturally the redesign focused on increasing natural lighting and improving space and energy efficiency. As a result, the architects basically turned the house ‘upside down’, putting the sleeping quarters downstairs and living area upstairs, thus maximizing access to light and usable space. Additionally, the redesign turned the seven claustrophobic bedrooms of the original design into four spacious sleeping chambers. The living area now flows naturally into a backyard pool area and roofed entertainment patio, allowing for a better sense of connection between indoors and outdoors.

The Upside-Down House’s interior boasts a minimalist, open aesthetic, with hidden storage helping to keep things tidy. Sustainable features include energy-saving LED lighting, hydronic heating, solar-powered ventilators and passive solar principles. Skylights and large, tapered shafts allow more natural light into the living area, reducing the need for electric lighting. Concrete slabs on both floors and external insulation on the double-brick walls enable thermal mass, while solar gain is attenuated by long roof eaves and new dual shading. These features have allowed the Upside-Down House to achieve a six-star energy rating.

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(Main image and all Upside-Down House photos by Tatjana Plitt)

Jody McCutcheon

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