I love seeing how other people live, and it helps make me feel creative with my own dwelling space.
40 of the Most Unique, Strange, Unusual Houses Ever Built
If you’ve ever had the urge to create your own hobbit hole or build a life-sized Lego house, you’ll find inspiration in these unusual homes. In this collection, I have included only actual-built homes, not Photoshop creations, of which there are many fine examples (such as the tilted, gravity-defying houses of San Francisco) sprinkled around on the web. I have divided the collection up into four categories:
- Nature-Inspired Homes
- Modern Architecture
- Upcycled Houses
- Bizarrchitecture (what were they thinking?)
The architects of these houses are amazingly creative and clever with their ideas – I hope you’ll enjoy looking at them as much as I did!
1. Hằng Nga Guesthouse, Dalat, Vietnam
Originally designed by Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga, the Hang Nga Guesthouse is also known as the “Dalat Crazy House” by the locals and vaguely resembles a giant tree. With 10 themed guest rooms, the house is open to tourists. It boasts lots of nooks, crannies, twists, turns, bridges, hallways and staircases and is promoted as a fairy tale themed house surrounded by sculptures and gardens. All of the furniture inside the house needed to be handcrafted to fit in with the organic shape of the interior.
2. Monsanto Houses, Monsanto, Portugal
There are many heavy and gigantic granite boulders in the village of Monsanto, which is why the residents chose to build houses around, between and under them long ago. The boulders form the walls, floors and roofs of the stone cottages. In some instances, there are doors fitted into the boulders.
Monsanto has not changed in hundreds of years and was given a heritage status by the Portuguese government, preserving a village-sized living museum of these prehistoric style houses which are still in use today.
3. Dar al Hajar, Wadi Dhahr Valley, Yemen
This rock house was built by Imam Yahya (an Islamic spiritual leader) in the 1930s as a summer home and offers amazing views from the top for tourists. A good example of Yemeni architecture, “Iman’s Rock Palace” is five storeys high and has a system to cool water in earthware jars. Originally Dar al Hajar was built on the remains of another building on top of a rock and has since become a famous icon in Yemen.
4. Eliphante Art House, Cornville, Arizona USA
Artist Michael Kahn and his wife Leda Livant started building this house in 1979 and finished it 28 years later, using found materials such as driftwood, rocks and waste building materials. Described as a handmade and sculptural home, the Eliphante was named for its unusual shaped entrance.
Inside is an underground artists abode with intricate wood, tile and stone mosaics and lots of curves and organic forms. Light comes in from light holes or beautifully made windows. Tourists can visit the house by appointment.
5. Cappadocia Rock Houses, Central Anatolia, Turkey
Cavelike rock houses, mansions and monasteries are a popular tourist attraction in Cappadocia, where the people have carved out houses and tunnels in the soft rock. Millions of years ago, volcanic eruptions covered the region with an ash which solidified into a soft rock, then the erosion of wind and rain created unusual formations in cones, mushrooms, pillars, pinnacles and chimneys that rise as high as 40m.
Due to being able to tunnel in the soft rock, the residents created an underground network of catacombs leading to towns with buildings up to 8 stories high beneath the ground. Today, some people still live in the rock homes and tourists are welcome to stay in rock hotels and take a hot air balloon trip across the Göreme Valley.
6. Flintstones-Inspired Home, Malibu, USA
TV legend Dick Clark of “Bandstand” fame built this single-story house in Malibu while inspired by the classic 1960’s Flintstones cartoon. Listed for sale at $3.5 million, the home’s carved and cavelike interior is reminiscent of Fred and Wilma’s rocky home. Situated on 23 acres, with views of the Serrano Valley, the Boney Mountains, the Channel Islands and the Pacific Ocean, it is still seeking a buyer.
7. Icelandic Turf Houses, Iceland
Known as the traditional houses of Iceland (as they date back to Viking times) these turf houses were the result of a difficult climate combined with a lack of other materials available. The foundation was made of flat stones, upon which was built a wooden frame which would hold a few layers of turf.
Often, the houses would be interconnected and the turf would give the buildings extra insulation against the cold.
Before the Vikings, communal toilets were built away from the house and large groups often attended the toilets together against the cold. When the people started being attacked during toilet trips, the indoor lavatory was invented.
8. The Ancient Cliff House, Guyaju, China
Over 110 rooms were carved into the side of a cliff about 92km northwest of Beijing in the Tang Dynasty. The Xiyi people lived in them and built the communal caves near a natural spring.
The Guyaju Caves are known as the largest cliff residence ever discovered in China and are also known as “the biggest maze of China”. Stone steps and ladders were used to connect the different levels, and inside were found stone hearths, wardrobes, beds and mangers. At the highest level of the communal cave was found a two storey stone house, featuring furniture which may have belonged to the leader of the tribe.
9. Jayson Fann Spirit Nest Homes, California USA
These nest homes are used as forest getaways or beach homes in California. Invented by artist Jayson Fann, they involve twining eucalyptus branches together to create a sturdy, small house for sleeping or relaxing.
You can commission a customized nest from Jayson on his website.
They are strong enough to accommodate up to 8 people and usually require a ladder to enter.
The floor of the nest has a strong woven mat upon which furnishings can be placed to make it more comfortable.
10. Beehive Houses, Syria, Iran
Made from mud, dirt, straw and stones, these beehive houses originated around 3,700 BC and can be found in rural farming communities, deserts and cities. Each beehive has an oculus hole at the top, which lets in light and sucks out hot air. When there is rain, the conical shape of the beehive keeps the interior dry. They are very cool inside, due to the insulation of the thick walls and are still in use today as residences and storage barns.
Often inspired by problem solving or environmental considerations, modern architecture can sometimes manifest itself unusually in design. You'll find lots of eco-friendly, micro-houses in this category, as well as compact houses that take advantage of using small pieces of prime real estate. Some of this architecture can be described as "visionary" because it focuses on a variety of home building solutions for future generations and oversteps the boundaries of traditional home building design.
11. Keret House, Warsaw, Poland
Known as the world’s narrowest house, Keret House is only 122 cm wide and is squeezed between two buildings in the centre of Warsaw, Poland. Designed by Polish architect Jakub Szczesny, the house is meant to provide a home for travelling writers, as no one can stay too long in the small space. The house is supported by stilts and at its narrowest point is 72cm wide. “It has already become a Warsaw icon and is already on the tourist map,” says Jakub of his creation.
12. Kvivik Igloos, Faroe Islands, Denmark
Based on the Icelandic tradition of the turf house, the Kvivik Igloo features a turf roof for insulation (the igloos are heated by wood stoves). A pair of igloos were built near the town of Kvivik and are designed to offer temporary, novelty accommodation for tourists in a panoramic setting between the mountains and the bay. Described as “micro houses”, the igloos have a kitchen, lounge area and double bed in a loft. The unusual geometric design draws many visitors throughout the year.
13. The Mobile Aquatic Pod, Exbury, England
Designed as a personal experiment by Stephen Turner, the “Exbury Egg” was intended to be an art installation but turned into Stephen’s home on the water. Described as an ultra minimal living solution, the egg is towed by boat to its residence and the wooden exterior is meant to weather over time to blend in with the marshes in which it resides.
There is a one-room living space in the pod and a basic shower, hammock and cooking devices are contained within. A removable dock was built to the egg to allow entrance. The ergonomic egg shape bobs lightly on the tide and is moored by ropes, making it an ideal mobile floating home.
14. Element House, Star Axis, New Mexico, USA
Designed by MOS Architects, the Element House is a prefabricated, modular house that can be customised and then re-customised to grow and change as required over time.
Parts of the house can be combined in a Fibonacci sequence to rapidly make different layouts and expand the space, and extra units can be added or removed to accommodate the needs of the homeowner.
Of interest are chimney-like towers in the house, which bring light and ventilation into the interior. Built with a strong environmental focus, the Element House is MOS Architect’s answer to modern family and village living. The first prototype is currently nearing completion in Mexico.
15. Villa Vals, Therme Vals, Switzerland
Built into a hillside to blend in with its natural surroundings and provide unobstructed views of the alpine local scenery, Villa Vals is located near the famous thermal springs of Vals. To reach the front door, the visitor must enter through a barn and walk through an underground tunnel. Christian Müller Architects and SeARCH designed the villa, which has a smart interior and is available to rent for tourists to Therme Vals.
16. Malator House, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
Known locally as the Teletubby house, Malator House is built entirely underground, and only the front glass view of the house shows its existence in a hill.
Built in 1998 by Future Systems architects for a Member of Parliament (Bob Marshall-Andrews QC), Malator house showcases how the landscape can be preserved with thoughtful architecture.
From an aerial perspective, the house cannot be seen at all, as the top is completely covered with native grasses and blends perfectly into the scenery.
17. Citadel, Naaldwijk, The Netherlands
Due to begin construction in 2014, the Citadel building is the first floating apartment complex in the world and is one of six of the “New Water” developments in the polders of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has over 3,500 polders, which are areas of land below sea level that are prone to flooding. Usually polders are protected by dykes and the water is pumped out, but the Citadel floats on the wetland water, requiring none or minimal land modification and maintenance.
Containing 60 luxury apartments and a parking lot, each unit has a private outdoor space and berthing for a small boat. Using water pumped through submerged pipes as a cooling technique, it is estimated that the Citadel is 25% more energy efficient than if it was built on land.
The architects of the Dutch firm Waterstudio, are to be admired for their problem solving abilities in designing an attractive residence for traditionally problematic real estate.
18. M-Velope Transformer House, Various Locations
Designer Michael Jantzen created the M-Velope Transformer House to demonstrate how a house could rearrange itself to suit the needs of the occupant. The slated wooden panels slide on a steel frame to move the walls, doors and roof into new positions. Inside the house, benches can be folded away to allow more room when needed.
At just 230 square feet, the M-Velope fits into a small space and includes elements of renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable materials in its construction. There are only 10 M-Velope Houses in existence and they are ideal for using as holiday homes or relaxation residences.
19. Habitat 67, Cité du Havre, Montreal, Canada
Designed by Israeli-Canadian architectural student Moshe Safdie, Habitat 67 was built for the World’s Fair Expo in 1967. It is a housing complex with a revolutionary vision—the creation of high-density community housing incorporating gardens, fresh air and privacy in a multilevel design.
Up to 12 stories high, it is made of 354 prefab concrete units arranged in various combinations, allowing 146 residences in different sizes. Each unit has access to one or more private terraces.
Safdie’s initial objective of Habitat 67 was to provide affordable housing in cities, however the popularity of the landmark complex pushed up prices of the apartments and Habitat 67 became a prestigious address to live. A group of tenants formed a partnership and purchased the building in 1985. Habitat 67 launched Safdie’s career in architecture and he has since designed over 75 buildings around the world.
20. The Urban Cactus, Rotterdam, Netherlands
UCX Architects designed this rather amazing apartment building as an example of making the most of alternating patterns to allow more sunlight for outdoor spaces in future community housing. With 98 residential apartments and 19 stories, the unusual design allows each apartment access to sun, both on the garden petal and some of the interior. The project was designed to allow green space with residency near the Vuurplaat Harbour, as well as excellent city views. Construction of the building began in 2006.
21. The Earth House Estate, Dietikon, Switzerland
Built around a small artificial lake are nine “Earth Houses” that look like hobbit holes, containing modern apartment-like interiors, each including a modular kitchen and luxury bathroom.
Architect Peter Vetsch designed the houses to blend into the landscape, using the earth as insulation and protection from rain, wind and ice. Entrance to the estate is kept private. Due to the success of Earth Houses, Vetsch Architecture is creating and building many more such mini communities in Switzerland and Germany, using similar techniques.
Homes that are built using materials or structures that previously had a different purpose. Upcycling is a process whereby useless or waste products can be made into something better, without breaking them down into tiny bits or chemical compounds (unlike recycling). Due to the immense costs of demolishing, transporting or deconstructing structures and buildings, upcycling is seen as a modern way to create "green" housing, though in many cases extensive (and expensive) renovation may be required. For this reason, upcycled houses tend to be rather unique and one-of-a-kind affairs.
22. Sea Rescue Station, Binz Beach, Rügen, Germany
There are many sea rescue stations and lifeguard towers in the world that have been converted to housing, and this particular one is quite striking in design. German engineer Ulrich Müther and architect Dietrich Otto created it in 1968 and Ulrich renovated it again in 2004. He also upcycled and built a number of other buildings, including restaurants, mosques and planetariums in his career.
The Binz Rescue Station looks like an ideal beach house, but is currently used as a maid room of the registry office.
23. The Cosmic Muffin, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
Named “The Cosmic Muffin," Howard Hughes cut the tail and wings off this 1930s Boeing Stratoliner and transformed it into a houseboat.
Only ten Boeing 307 Stratoliners were made in the 1930s and it was the world’s first commercial pressurized aircraft. Dubbed a one-of-a-kind creation, the Cosmic Muffin has passed through a few owners, who have lovingly restored and maintained it.
Today, the Cosmic Muffin is a historical and educational attraction offering charters and tours for many different groups, from corporate meetings to sponsored gatherings and schoolgroup visits. You can also hire it for advertising, tv and movie productions if so inclined.
24. Montesilo House, Woodland, Utah, USA
Designed by Gigaplex Architects in 2006, this converted grain silo house was built near the Provo River and was constructed of two corrugated silos that are linked together. Lots of eco friendly features are built into the home, such as a southerly aspect maximising daylight and solar heat in winter. The lower floor has an electric mesh built into it for heating the house and a propane stove provides additional warmth.
The second storey deck provides shade in summer. At 1800 square feet, Monte Silo House is a comfortable weekend residence for its owner and his grandchildren, who enjoy sleeping in “Bed In A Box” cubbyhouse beds featuring stereo sound and a flat screen TV.
25. Shipping Container Guest House, San Antonio, Texas, USA
There’s many shipping containers around the world being upcycled into houses, offices and complexes these days, but this one designed by Texas architect Jim Poteet of Poteet Architects in 2010, is one of the cutest and most attractive I have seen.
The house is made from a standard 40 foot shipping container and is located in the San Antonio artists community. It has air conditioning and heating systems, as well as a roof garden to insulate the interior from hot weather. There is also a shower and sink.
The house is intended to be a visiting guest and play house and the unused section functions as a gardening shed. Jim Poteet’s creation looks bright and exciting and sets a new benchmark in shipping container house design.
26. Tower House, North Kensington, London, UK
It’s the last place you’d expect to see a converted water tower, but at 60 feet high and located next door to Sainsbury’s in Ladbroke Grove, Tower House offers great views of the city.
Design research studio Tom Dixon upcycled this 80 year old water tower with a modernist design after buying it in 2005. The water tower was put on concrete stilts, windows were cut into the walls and wooden panels were added to the exterior.
Three floors out of five have been completed so far, with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, 2 reception rooms, and a bathroom. Dixon plans to add an elevator instead of a staircase and system that will use water from the Grand Union Canal to heat and cool the tower. At project completion, it is estimated the total cost will be $1.25 million. Tower House is a modern landmark and a fine example of urban upcycling.
27. Heidelberg Project, Detroit, USA
The Heidelberg Project is a community organization encouraging locals to use art and creativity to make beautiful installations in the streets of rundown suburbs in Detroit.
The Project has been running since 1986 and amazing houses and street decorations have been built out of upcycled materials.
Previously, where modern ruins and abandoned houses stood in a two block area, there is now color and interest.
The founder of the Heidelberg Project, Tyree Guyton, loves upcycling discarded objects and wants to educate people about community through art.
The interesting artworks have resulted in over 275,000 tourists visiting the Project annually, spawning new jobs for the city and hope for the artists who are busily making a difference transforming their lives.
28. Casa Ecologica de Botellas Plasticas (La Casa de Botellas), Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
The Alfredo Santa Cruz family constructed this house from 1,200 plastic PET bottles, to promote ecological and social responsibility. A smaller playhouse was also built in a similar fashion for the youngest daughter.
As well as PET bottles, 1,300 milk and wine Tetra packs were used in the roof and 140 CD cases were used in the doors and windows. Couches and beds inside the house were also built with plastic bottles and the family invented their own way of fusing the plastics together, while retaining the symmetrical design.
29. The Kettle House, Galveston Island, Texas, USA
This upcycled 1800s water tower/silo was built by an anonymous architect in the 1950s, who was rumored to have built storage tanks for oil companies in his career. The Kettle House was originally built to be a convenience store, but never opened for business. It is made of steel, which is a strange choice for the local salty seaside air, where most of the houses are on stilts. However, it has withstood hurricanes and storms for over 50 years, with only a little rust to show for it.