Although societies have transformed through the ages, wealth never truly seems to go out of style. That said, the manner in which it is expressed continually adapts to each successive cultural epoch. As a consequence of evolving social mores and emerging technologies, the ideal of “luxury” and “splendour” sees priorities shift from opulence to subtlety, from tradition to innovation, and from visual ornamentation to physical comfort.
AD Classics are ArchDaily's continually updated collection of longer-form building studies of the world's most significant architectural projects. In these ten examples of "high-end" residences, which represent centuries of history across three separate continents, the ever-changing nature of status, power and fine living is revealed.
Built during a time of unprecedented prosperity in the Venetian Republic, the Palazzo Santa Sofia was as much a symbol of la Serenissima’s wealth and power as it was its owner’s. Famous for the gilding that once covered much of its elaborate marble stonework, the palazzo has earned the enduring nickname Ca d’Oro—the House of Gold. Even without its shimmering ornamentation today, it’s marble cladding and impossibly delicate carvings stand true to its name.
Inspired by medieval fables and Wagnerian operas, Neuschwanstein Castle was the creation of the flamboyant Bavarian King Ludwig II. Fervent in his desire to escape the real world and to live in a Romantic medieval fantasy, Ludwig spent much of his fortune on a series of castles before being quietly deposed on the grounds of insanity. Despite its Romanesque Revivalist style, Neuschwanstein’s steel skeletal structure and various mechanical conveniences mark it as a product of late Industrial Era Europe.
Going against the Classicist grain of the early 20th Century, the Gamble House is a masterpiece of the American Arts and Crafts movement. Architects Greene & Greene combined elements of traditional Japanese and European design to create a house that was thoroughly suited to its California setting. Gamble House’s rich carpentry and ornate stained glass windows earned it National Historic Landmark status, and it now serves as a public museum.
King’s Road House in West Hollywood is considered by many to be the world’s first Modernist home. Designed by its first inhabitants, the use of then-innovative tilt slab concrete construction allowed them to build it themselves, as well. With its exposed concrete structure and full-height windows looking out onto Japanese-inspired gardens, King’s Road House represented a wholly new form of residential luxury and comfort.
Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier (1929)
The Villa Savoye is the physical embodiment of Le Corbusier’s “Five Points” for architectural design. Located outside of Paris, this 1920s take on the French country house was to become one of the most influential templates for Modernist residential design in history. Inspired by, and built for, the technology of the automobile, the Villa Savoye was perhaps the most enduring example of Le Corbusier’s “machine for living.”
Conceived as a counterpart to his summer home in Wisconsin, Taliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural interpretation of the Arizona desert. Synthesizing his Prairie Style with local materials and techniques, Wright developed an airy, open series of spaces that are simultaneously shielded from the intense desert sun. Taliesin West now serves as the home of the Taliesin Fellowship and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, allowing students to learn in the building that once housed Wright and his apprentices.
With pure white geometry lifted above the ground plane by pilotis, Richard Meier’s Saltzman House represents a more refined development of Le Corbusier’s architectural principles; its construction in 1969 signaled Meier’s staunch refusal to submit to the rise of the Postmodern movement in architecture. Most of the house’s public spaces are on its second and third floors, providing views of the nearby coastline not achievable at ground level.
Much like the King’s Road House, the concrete towers of the Barbican Estate do not give an immediate impression of luxury. Situated in the heart of London, the Estate is an urban microcosm, with its three residential towers rising above the public cultural and retail facilities distributed throughout the site. While the Saltzman House is based on Le Corbusier’s principles for individual buildings, the Barbican Estate echoes his concepts for urban planning; the complex is now regarded as one of Britain’s finest examples of Brutalist architecture.
Koshino House / Tadao Ando (1984)
The severe concrete forms of the Koshino House disguise Tadao Ando’s careful consideration of the site on which they were built. Intentionally placed so as not to disrupt the existing trees, two rectilinear masses and a later curvilinear addition are partially sunken into the slope of the land, allowing the house to become a harmonious element of the environment instead of dominating it. Narrow apertures in the façade allow natural light to enter the interior in a carefully controlled manner, allowing light itself to serve as the building’s only ornamentation.
Villa dall’Ava / OMA (1991)
Situated on a hill overlooking Paris, the Villa dall’Ava comprises two apartments in three rectilinear volumes. The individual apartments are contained in aluminum-clad boxes, connected by a glazed volume that houses the family’s communal living spaces. Windows throughout the home are oriented to capture the best views of the gardens and the city, and the rooftop pool—at the client’s request—features an enviable view of the distant Eiffel Tower.