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Build the House in the Hill

Like so many great design schemes, Christian Müller's idea for Villa Vals walked the line between...

Like so many great design schemes, Christian Müller's idea for Villa Vals walked the line between intuitive and loony. You want to build a house on a dramatic hill, but aren't allowed to obstruct the landscape. Therefore you build the house in the hill.

So went the Dutch architect's devilishly deconstructed thinking as he weighed plans for a home in Vals, the tiny Swiss resort town best known for Peter Zumthor's Therme Vals spa complex. The town wouldn't approve anything that messed with its star attraction, forcing him to get creative. "Something had to be built that wouldn't ruin the view," Müller says. "Something in terms of depth is the logical step."

Certainly. But aren't houses built above ground for good reason? A glance at the Villa Vals makes the question obsolete. Cutting straight into the hill's pitch, Müller's design opens up a grand front patio without adding a vertical inch. It's a bunker with a high-rise view. Inside, strategically arranged sightlines and bright furnishings keep it feeling anything but sealed off. "It is not at all claustrophobic," says Müller.

Like its spa neighbor, the villa—which opened for vacation leases in September, 2009—also mixes local heritage into its highly evolved modernism. The home features an underground passageway connected to a remote entrance in an old barn. Müller requested the relic be saved. "The barn was [supposed] to be demolished. We convinced the former owner to keep it as one of the last witnesses of rural history in the village."

Photo by Iwan Baan.

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