sat 13/07/2024

The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, BBC Two

The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, BBC Two

Intrepid presenters seek out amazing architecture at the ends of the earth

Caroline Quentin and Piers Taylor by the Te Kaitaka house at Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

This was the first of four programmes looking at houses made of extraordinary materials in various environments, some extreme. We began with "Mountain", and further explorations are promised to "Coast", "Forest" and "Underground".

The presenters were a contrasting pair: the rake-thin and wiry architect Piers Taylor, and actress and property developer Caroline Quentin, both at ease conversationally to the camera and with each other. 

Caroline Q was the surrogate viewer connecting to us. She nearly toppled over as she explored the potential frisson of the instability of a fragment of the wing of a dismantled Boeing 747 which provided a terrace for the 747 Wing House in the Santa Monica mountains, and an irresistible bounce for our intrepid presenters. The stepping stone external stairs by which the Tucson Mountain Retreat house was reached were yet another challenge, as was the cable car ride – Ms Quentin does not care for heights – to the House on the Rigi (the Swiss mountain much immortalised by Turner a century ago, his dream-like watercolours on view at Tate Britain) some 1650 metres above sea level (pictured below: Quentin draws the landscape at the Rigi House).

Caroline Quentin in The World's Most Extraordinary HomesIn the midst of a welter of surprised exclamations and a plethora of superlatives, Taylor explained with nifty computer graphics the siting, floor plans, orientation and natural light of the houses so we kind of knew where we were. To say these houses were challenging was an understatement, and all owners confessed that their ambitions had led to major overspend.

What we witnessed here in the main was people getting away from their daily lives, and in so doing providing us too with temporary escapism as we journeyed from California to Arizona, South Island New Zealand to the Swiss Alps. None of the quartet of houses in the first programme were or had been full-time habitats for their owners. They were holiday houses or retreats, except for the 747 Wing House which was a full-time retirement retreat. Each was also distinguished by the sheer difficulty of finding the site, building the house and even just getting to it.  

The House on the Rigi, built by AFGH architects for themselves, turned out to be a rather wonderful wooden hexagon, a two-storey structure which was actually prefabricated and helicoptered in, and anchored by a deep concrete foundation, built in a day. Fifteen minutes by cable car from the nearest town, it also seemed to be part of a cluster of more conventional and typical Swiss chalets. How they got the furniture up and did the shopping was unexplained, but we saw how the House on the Rigi had views that seemingly floated above the clouds which graced the Alpine summits.

The owner of the 747 Wing House had spent 15 years looking for the site in the Santa Monica mountains, spent $50,000 on tail fins and wings – we saw the aeroplane graveyard whence the material came – and built the house looking out to the California hills north of LA. It was feared that pilots might mistake the house for a downed plane, so 17 government agencies had to give permission. Her obvious financial success had come from being a Mercedes-Benz dealer, but she lived in a house that looked as though it could fly away.

Outside Tucson, Arizona, a couple, both doctors, had built their desert retreat complete with rammed-earth brick walls, literally embraced by Piers Taylor as he almost swooned at their beauty. They overspent so much on their eco-friendly dream that they did not move in for a year. And their architects who knew how to embrace the desert in an environmentally friendly way (disturbing cacti is outlawed) were neatly named DUST.

Te Kaitaka in The World's Most Extraordinary HomesIn New Zealand, the weather conditions and access for building high above the water were so difficult that the house, two pavilions inspired by origami shapes, took three years to complete in a mélange of materials including ceramic window frames, wooden external cladding, internal concrete walls and cedar staircases. For miles there was no building to be seen, and the house had to be as invisible as possible (Te Kaitaka house, pictured above).

What came across was the almost unbelievable obsession and determination that brought these unique houses into being. An oddity was the similarity of the relatively austere interiors, all with their recognisably modernist furniture, a curious conformity within totally individual homes. Cosy they were not. The owners had made their lives in cities, and what they wanted were dream houses with endless views, houses to be looked out of, as far removed in feeling from urban life as possible. It was our enthusiastic commentators, Messrs Quentin and Taylor, who kept us grounded.

Each was distinguished by the sheer difficulty of finding the site, building the house and even getting to it


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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It was the houses that kept me grounded while the presenters drove me to distraction. I have to admit I am presenter averse but the current fashion for 2 of them rather like breakfast time hosts is a step too far. Maybe the producers felt Piers Taylor on his own, given his passing resemblance to Kevin McCloud, would make the whole thing seem too much like Grand Designs still I'd rather concentrate on the houses and let them speak for themselves.

I totally agree with you. I had high hopes for the programme but found it difficult to enjoy. The pairing of the two presenters seemed an uneasy fit. Caroline always giving Piers the lead and agreeing with his every word. I would love to know what the superlative count was.

Weighing in with more agreement here. The program is really interesting - but the chatter of the presenters is distracting to the point of being maddening. We had to switch off in the middle of the second episode and probably will not be back -- which is a shame. I suppose we could watch it with the sound off, but I do want to know about how the homes were built and the thinking that went into the design. Much less of the high-pitched gushing "I LOVE this!" and more informative commentary would be really helpful.

Caroline Quentin spoilt the whole program for me she gave nothing other than to be very loud and disconnected. Piers would be better on his own.

Have to agree with many of the comments made re. C.Quentin. Wrong person for the job....

Caroline Quentin's loud and overbearing delivery completely spoils this programme. Piers Taylor would be fine on his own - she adds nothing for me. These elegant buildings need someone informed and eloquent to deliver commentary.

Who on earth picked Caroline Quentin for this? She was irritating beyond belief. "It;s ORANGE!" she shrieked as she walked through a front door. 'A waste of space" she bellowed as she did a comedy fall backwards into a door. It was painful to watch. I do believe she was trying to be funny. Trying way to hard. I want an architect to help me to see it through their eyes. Like someone talking you through an old master painting. Quentin added nothing but took plenty.

I agree with all above. I was driven to putting on subtitles and turning the sound off as I couldn't stand anymore of caroline's squealing and shrieking and inane comments. Leave Piers to do it at least he knows what he's talking about. If they felt the programme needed 2 presenters get a woman architect not someone who thinks she is a comedian.

Oh come on!!wheres your sense of humour,it has to be a different approach to kevin macleods excellant programme,and when do we get such a light hearted approach to that dark title 'property developer',?This is an insight into those who do develop properties with very knowledgable designers ,architects (Thank God they dont refer to them as ARTITECHS as restoration man does!!)and is an insight into intelligent use of money.With a bit of light hearted banter,lets not be so precious,shes great and its good balance with his rather serious approach.

I have to agree with paula. My wife and I are avid Grand designs fans, but we thought this was even better. The houses were obviously grand but often it was the interplay between Piers and Caroline that made it much more fun. Lets face it Kevin can get a bit dreary. Most viewers are NOT architects so having Piers add the technical aspects and architects perspective, whilst Caroline gave the common (and often more honest) view was refreshing. She also added more humour ands depth to the program than just having along an architect. Thumbs up from us to a very refreshing series!!

Ryan, spot on. This was Grand Designs but on steroids. After approaching CQ qith caution, by the time I'd got into it (and rewatched each episode several times), I realised she was the warm, perfect foil for Piers. He gives you the lowdown, CQ gives you the reality. A superb and inspiring series. Beautifully put together as well, with a lovely sound track.

Could not stand CQ. I'd rather listen to fingernails on a blackboard amplified as easy listening compared with her glass shattering timbre. Why Caroline Quentin? She's actually more annoying than Donald Trump... And less consequential. Totally spoiled what should have been the easiest archi-doco series to make: Let the houses speak for themselves FCS!

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