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Thursday, March 25, 2010

18 Weird and Wonderful Places To Live: Churches, Bunkers, Water Towers and Caves

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto

cave house new york times photo
Lars Tunbjork for The New York Times

The New York Times Magazine did a photo spread of some rather extreme conversions of churches, shipping containers and water towers and even caves, like the happy family shown above with an umbrella over the pool table to control the sand. We do our own roundup of TreeHugger favourites:


Chapel Converted to Residence by ZECC Architects

church conversion zecc photo

ZECC Architects, beloved of their conversion of a water tower into a residence, are at it again with this conversion of a Dutch chapel into a single family residence. In some ways it is a bit sad, when formerly public spaces get converted to private residences, but not every church can be converted into a bookstore or other public use, and this chapel is a bit less dramatic than the church that became the bookshop.

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Record Houses: A Modest Little Reno

church convertion tower into apartment

Christopher Wren's Christ Church was bombed out in WW2 and is now a roofless rose garden; its tower survived and got into private hands. Architect Nicholas Boyarsky has designed an apartment in it: eleven stories high. Owner Kate Renwick must have great legs, going up and down those stairs all day.

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Church House, Kyloe, England in New York Times


One we missed: "Ian Bottomley and his partner, Sally Onions, take in the sun in the graveyard of their home, a converted 1792 church."

More in the New York Times

Church Converted into Bookshop

church converted into bookshop photo

Our favourite religious conversion is this one in Maastricht; Where we live, churches that are no longer needed for religious purposes are turned into condos and pass out of the public realm. How much more appropriate that they turn into such a magnificent shrine to the book.

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Water Towers

Water Tower Converted into Residence

zecc water tower utrecht photo

Talk about recycling buildings; this is a conversion of a water tower into a residence in Soest, Utrecht, Netherlands in 2004. It is by zecc arcitechten of Utrecht, Netherlands.

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AR Awards: Water Tower Conversion

water tower dorte mandrup

Water towers are often "formally crude, over-engineered and top heavy" (although there are some nice ones about) and there is usually nothing under them but air. Here is a brilliant use of that space: fill it with apartments! Since the tower is often built on the highest spot of land, the views will be great. What a wonderful reinvention of an underutilized structure.

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Water Tower House by Jo Crepain

belgium water tower conversion photo
For a long time the owner was in love with an old water tower and the little park around it, outside of Antwerp. Although it was by no means possible to live in the old tower, since it was just a skeleton, with a huge barrel on top, he started dreaming of building it into a house. And six years later, together with his architect, he made a dream come through.

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Water-Tower Apartment, Essen, Germany

nytimes water tower photo
Lars Tunbjork for The New York Times

We missed this one but the NY Times didn't:

"A decade ago, the architects Arnim Koch and Michael Dahms were working on a project for the municipal utility of Essen, Germany, when they became enamored with an obsolete 1905 water tower. The pair designed eight floors into the tower's base, which are now home to two rental apartments, a real estate agency and a communications business".
More in the New York Times

Tom Dixon's Water Tower Home and Showroom


New to TreeHugger is designer Tom Dixon's water tower in Ladbroke Grove. According to BD Online,

"Tom is a big fan of brutalist structures and strong forms, and extruding the cylinder upwards is the purest way of dealing with it," said Harris. "The planners really got the intention. Rather than short, fat and bland, they said let's make a statement but quite a slender statement."

The house will expand over nine storeys -- yes, there is a lift -- including four new levels, with two roof terraces. On the ground floor there will be an exhibition space for Dixon's furniture, with the living rooms housed in an open-plan, double-height cube extension at first floor level. There will be four bedrooms and a study in the upper levels of the cylinder with a lofty penthouse reception room.

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The Times didn't show any conversions of bunkers, but we have a few:

Bunker Turned Into Studios by Index Architects

bunker conversion germany

Often our readers complain that some of the architecture I like looks like a bunker; (see church here) sometimes they are right, such as in this case in Frankfurt. It is, in fact, a World War II bunker in Frankfurt that had been previously disguised as a house because it was too expensive to demolish.

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New Buildings from Old Bunkers in Bremen

bunker bremen

There are a lot of bunkers in Bremen and around Germany; after WWII most were left in their original form "due to a so-called "civil protection commitment" to keep the building free in case of an emergency requiring people to use it for protection again." After the reunification of Germany this became less of an issue, and architect Rainer Mielke was able to begin converting them into housing.

The advantages over conventional housing are immediate; "the thick walls create a special temperature in the rooms. In summer it's cool, and in winter it's warm"

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Creative Recycling: Bunker to Apt Rms w Vu

archivolver bunker photo

What do you do with a bunker like this? Archivolver put a house on it. Of course their site is in stupid flash so I can't translate it. And they have something else going on so I cannot even copy the link to the page. Why do architects do these things?

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Caves and Underground Houses

Bill Lishman's Underground Dome Home

lishman house photo

Readers may remember Fly Away Home, the film starring Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin that was based on William Lishman's flights with birds. The script stuck pretty close to Lishman's life, and even included the round pop-up refrigerator in his kitchen. But they didn't use his house; it is a group of interconnected igloo-like domes, buried underground; they thought it was "too weird." Perhaps they were right; it does look like a wacky sixties out-take. But it also evidently needs almost no energy to cool and almost none to heat, even though it is in a pretty cold, windy location.

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For Sale: Repurposed, Recycled and Renovated Atlas Missile Base

underground silo home photo

There is nothing greener than renovation, repurposing and reuse of existing buildings, so how could we not publish this conversion of an Atlas Missile base in the Adirondacks into a lovely 2300 square foot underground home, complete with private runway, contemporary fiber optic effect lighting along with natural sunlight rendition back lighting, and a ventilation system specially designed to deal with the challenges of everyday living, including nuclear and biochemical attack.

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Underground Houses: Vals House by SeArch and Christian Müller Architects

vals house photo

There are a lot of benefits to building houses underground; they are cheap, almost free, to heat and cool. In Vals, Switzerland there are famous thermal baths with amazing views, so in order to build close to the baths, the architects buried the house into the hill.

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Other oddball conversions:

Pump House Converted into Green House

See More World's Greenest Homes at

Located on Lake Erie, an architect revives a rustic pump house, utilizing the original pump system and the structure's original ice wall.

See it larger at Planet Green

Back Lane Blacksmiths Shop turned into Eco Home

superkul house photo

Downtown Toronto is full of back lanes, and some of them have old commercial buildings on them that creative architects want to reuse. It is always a struggle with the zoning bylaws, the neigbours, the building code limitations on openings at property lines. For something that is so sensible as intensification using an existing infrastructure, the authorities almost conspire to make it almost impossible.

But Andre D'Elia and Meg Graham of Superkül pulled it off in a trendy part of midtown Toronto, in a building that I was in four years ago, looking at doing a prefab addition and just shaking my head.

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It was also covered on Planet Green's World's Greenest Homes:

See More World's Greenest Homes at