Stilt houses are houses raised on piles over the surface of the soil or a body of water. Dating back to the Neolithic and the Bronze Ages, a wide variety of raised dwellings have been identified in a variety of forms worldwide, designed with several diverse and innovative methodologies. Stilt houses are well suited to coastal regions and subtropical climates. More than just a distinctive structural design resolution, they also protect against floods, maximize views and allow homeowners to build on rocky, steep, or unstable land. They also serve to keep out animals and vermin, provide ventilation from underneath, and minimize a house’s ecological footprint.
Additionally, wood is a construction material that is fully renewable, organic, and environmentally conscious. Wood stores carbon dioxide for a long time, making wooden buildings significantly more climate-smart than those built using fossil-based materials and processes. Built on stilts, wood-based construction is an exceptionally sustainable - and aesthetically stimulating - way to build.
The following 10 wooden stilt homes are examples of the creative potential that this unique typology can bring forth in contemporary architecture:
Charred Cabin / DRAA
Located in the Olmué region northwest of Santiago, Chile is the Charred Cabin designed by DRAA. Commissioned as a mountain hideout for an academic couple, the Charred Cabin is designed as a shelter with a measured connection to the exterior, understood in two moments:
1. The entrance level - framed by a solitary window - shapes the activities of the lofty room, whereas the cooking and bathing areas are pressed by the mezzanine.
2. In the middle of the floorplan, a steel ladder allows for an attic that differentiates itself with extensive horizontal windows framing the picturesque mountains that surround the cabin.
The exterior of the cabin is constructed using SIP panels, while the prefab modules were arranged and proportioned in order to stand out from the steep terrain on stilts. Swiftly assembled by a party of three, the ease of construction was an important component of the cabin's commissioning.
High House / DELORDINAIRE
Completed in 2017, the High House designed by DELORDINAIRE stands boldly against the barren Québecois background. High House plays with the limit between interior and exterior, inviting people to gather in spaces immersed in nature. Although elevated stilt constructions are typically used in warm climates and flood zones, this energy-efficient winter chalet uses stilt typology to create a protected ground floor area with an outdoor stove.
Elevating the structure has provided residents with an uninterrupted view of Mont Saint Anne from the lounge area, as well as a striking overall aesthetic. It also allows sunshine to directly enter the house at all hours of the day.
On a cloudy or snowy day, the house blends into the white landscape almost disappearing, and on a summer's day, the minimal white structure stands out against the surrounding green hills.
House by the Lake / Carlos Zwick Architekten BDA
25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin-based architect Carlos Zwick fell in love with the overgrown lakeside property in Potsdam where the House by the Lake currently sits.
The passive house stands on 40 diagonal iron stilts whose 10 individual foundations respectfully touch the terraces only at specific points. A steel grid supports the wooden floors, walls, and ceilings. An ecological balance is in place - ensured by the sustainable building materials as well as the solar thermal system on the roof.
At a height of 3 meters and with a facade of vertical larch wood slats, the structure resembles a modern treehouse. It integrates unobtrusively into the hundred-year-old old oak and chestnut trees. The loggia extends across the entire width of the house, 8 meters above water level, which creates the feeling of floating directly above the lake. In the living areas, huge wooden sliding windows guarantee the greatest possible proximity to nature.
Even the large maple that once stood in the way of the house remains in place and now grows right through the middle of the living room.
Media Perra House / Santos Bolívar
This residential project - located in northwest Mexico, in the Valle de Guadalupe, Wine Route - was designed and constructed for Media Perra.
The landscape's peculiar natural features, steep topography, and sharp level changes created challenges and opportunities for Santos Bolívar Architects. Adaptation and connection with the surrounding natural features were concepts that led the architects to decide that the rock was a symbol of belonging and that the new house should be related to and interact with it. By creating a bridge (through the rock), the proposal for Media Perra house began to create a dialog between nature and built space.
The architects raised the main floor of the house using wood and steel pillars, in order to allow the ground floor to remain more permeable and open. Achieving a vertical rhythm, the exterior presents a humble reinterpretation of the façade of its predecessor: the Media Perra brewery.
Shelters for Hotel Bjornson / Ark-shelter
Ark-shelter Studio was commissioned to build a cluster of forest apartments for the Hotel Bjornson in Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia. With a design brief for one-side oriented double cabins surrounding the main hotel building, the solution became relatively straightforward.
Amongst the trees, the apartment design was based on the client’s idea of an outer shell with a one-sided orientation, and views. All of the cabins contain their own independent apartment consisting of a bed-living room, children’s room, entry hall, and a bathroom. Raised gently above the ground, the cabins are oriented to be facing away from each other and looking out into the undisturbed scenes of the forest or the ski slope.
It is the immediate contact with the ski slope and the rugged wilderness that creates the unique atmosphere of the resort.
Cabin Kvitfjell / Lund Hagem Architects
The design process for Cabin Kvitfjell was inspired by the client’s desire to have “a summer cabin in a winter landscape." The site - in Norway - is located atop one of the highest buildable plots within the Kvitfjell Ski Resort. It has uninterrupted views towards the southeast, where the topography drops dramatically.
The central part of the plot, previously cleared of vegetation, was also the flattest part. While the cleared area provided the perfect place to hold the weight of the cabin, the existing trees created a natural filter towards the road and towards the resort, further down the mountain.
The main cabin and the annex were both built on stilts in order to touch the ground in the "lightest" manner possible. To continue to build on the idea of "a summer cabin in the mountains," the structural volumes were wrapped in thin, vertical louvers. Given the large planes of glass behind these louvers, the external walls acquired a "veil-like" quality. The plan of the main cabin has a Y-shape that cantilevers to frame the remarkable views over the mountains, from both the common areas and the master bedroom.
House on 12 Legs / RJZS Architects
In the lush wilderness of Zebegény, a popular vacation and hiking spot in North Hungary sits the House on 12 Legs designed by RJZS Architects. The architectural heritage of Zebegény, has been strongly influenced by the geomorphology and natural resources of the town and its surroundings. The project site is located in the northwestern part of the region, amongst a resort area with family and vacation homes.
The twelve-legged house stands in a dense forest full of young oaks and acacias, with an especially steep terrain as a result of a nearby rainwash. The key requirements of the design were the following: the building should change the terrain and the environment as little as possible, it should utilize the fantastic view upon the Danube bend, and it should also be cheap and simple to construct. These aspects have been integrated into both the mass and the positioning of the building.
The gable-roofed mass opened on its shorter side, faces the Danube. Standing firmly on its legs, the whole house is a simple lightweight wooden structure. The construction only required one tree to be cut down. The building can be reached by foot from below. A series of simple wooden stairs lead up to the wooden structure, which touches the terrain at twelve points.
Stilt House / B.HOUSSAIS Architecture
True to its name, the Stilt House in Pleumeur-Bodou, France is raised off the ground. Its simplicity, transparency, and choice of materials (grey aluminum joinery, vertical glazing and wood siding, natural wood screen wall), strive to create a feeling of elegance and lightness.
The house is a well-glazed belvedere facing the Celtic Sea. Its position in relation to the limits of the lot and neighboring houses (and its location behind the rue des Plages) is strategic as the mound of ferns protects the house from vis-à-vis, allowing it to blend discreetly into the landscape while enabling its residents to fully see the sea. It is accessible via a galvanized steel staircase.
The foundations are laid using 12 piles screwed into the sand, and the ground remains completely permeable to water as a soak pit reprocesses rainwater. The framing and siding are in panels of untreated douglas fir and raw okoumé, while oak parquet covers the floors. Solar panels preheat domestic hot water.
The primary structure is set in galvanized steel, to save on raw materials and for optimal resistance reasons. The secondary structure is built using wood frames and includes the tiles of the ground floor, of the second floor, and of the panoramic terrace. Finally, a large curtain wall facade with wooden thorns and an aluminum shell faces the sea.
Las Trancas House / Cristian Irarrázaval Andrews
Las Trancas House is a starting point for the development of the untouched land located on the banks of Lake Calafquen near Coñaripe, Chile.
For this first construction, there was a heavy consideration for local knowledge due to the terrain’s characteristics and the difficulties of access. Most of the materials, techniques, and workmanship had to be sourced locally, presenting a technically atemporal construction process. Furthermore, the house had to remain flexible as the beginning of new development with an undecided future and many potential uses.
Programmatically the volume stands as an open plan which, thanks to a sliding panel system, can be divided into different spaces when required. A heavy roof structure provides shelter to the interior, which steps back onto three of its corners and forms a ledged perimeter for protection against heavy rain and sun conditions.
Half-Tree House / Jacobschang Architecture
This 360 square foot structure is located on a remote 60 acres of privately owned second-growth forest in Sullivan County, New York. It is sited on a steep, isolated area of the property with no vehicular access, no piped water, and no electricity.
From the outset, this project outlined two formidable directives: to design a structure that could be constructed by amateur weekend builders and to consider a limited construction budget. The topography presented a difficult challenge. In an effort to minimize site work and to eliminate the need for large footings, retaining walls, and pumped concrete, the architecture is lifted above the ground and relies upon support from the trees.
Sonotube footings anchor the upslope corners at grade while half of the weight of the structure is distributed, via Garnier Limbs, to two existing trees. Engineered wood beams form the perimeter with standard nominal lumber for all intermediate framing. Three 8’x8’ steel-tube pivot doors - the largest single expense - were fabricated offsite and installed, weather-stripped, and fitted onsite with dual-insulated glass.
The space is heated with a highly efficient Jotul wood stove and power (if needed) is drawn from a portable generator. The entire construction was performed by its two owners, and in the true spirit of New England barn-raising, with a team of dedicated weekend supporters.