Santos Churata has been a fan of the Transformers universe since early childhood. Now a licensed home builder in the Bolivian city of El Alto, the 34-year-old uses his passion for autobots and decepticons as inspiration for the design of eye-catching houses for the rich.
The city of El Alto, located at 4,070 meters above sea level, has become well-known for a unique architectural style called “chola architecture”. Sometimes described as psychedelic baroque, it incorporates symbols of native Andean culture, Chinese design elements and all the colors of the rainbow. For the new wealthy indigenous Bolivians, who have made millions in recent years, these modern-day palaces are a reflection of both their social status and their proud Aymara heritage. In 2015, there were over 170 unique chola houses in El Alto, enough for the city to set up a tourist route for the most impressive ones.
Due to the unique topography and high construction density of Chongqing, one of the most populated cities in China, architects and city planners had to come up with a unique way of developing a vital monorail line. Their solution – having the train pass straight through a 19-floor apartment building.
With the Daba, Wushan, Wuling, and Dalou Mountains to its north, east and south, most of Chongqing’s terrain is made up of hill slopes. That coupled with the lack of space due to the high building density and a population of around 49 million people, makes working on infrastructure a real challenge for architects and city planners. In 2004, when the Rail Transit No.2 was approved, they only had two choices – either tear down the whole apartment building to make room for the monorail, or clear up two floors and make a tunnel, so the train can pass through it. As unconventional as it seems, experts went for the second option, and 13 years later they are still convinced it was the right thing to do.
Covered by climbing plants and surrounded by a garden of eucalyptus, palms, olive trees and cypresses, this old cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona looks like an abandoned industrial complex reclaimed by nature. In reality, it’s a bustling work/living space designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill.
Bofill discovered the closed down World War I cement factory in 1973, and was immediately drawn to it. He and his team bought the entire complex consisting of over 30 silos, subterranean galleries and huge machine rooms and convert it into the head of office of Taller de Arquitectura. They spent two years demolishing dilapidated structures and remodeling those worth converting. When the dust settled, only eight silos remained, which became offices, a models laboratory, archives, a library, a projections room, a gigantic exhibition space known as “The Cathedral” and a residential space for Bofill.
Three years ago, Brian Sullivan and his wife Starla lived in a rented apartment that cost them $1,500 a month plus utilities. At one point they decided it wasn’t worth it anymore, so they bought an old school bus and turned into a comfy home for their big family.
It was in March 2014 that 29-year-old Brian and his wife Starla, 26, of Renton, Washington, got tired of wasting so much money on rent. The apartment was over an hour away from Brian’s workplace, and he had to work overtime just so they could afford the rent. Plus, they wanted to be homeowners and spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of people building their own tiny houses, or converting all kinds of things into comfortable living spaces. It was one of these videos that convinced them to take a leap of faith, so in April 2014, they bought a disused school bus for $2,800, and spent another $30,000 turning it into a home for their three kids.
“The apartment was about an hour away from Brian’s work and the commute was awful,” Starla says. “He would work overtime trying to pay the rent, then he would sit in a car for three hours and we would never see him, so we decided to make a change. We pay a third of the cost now and we have money to pay off debts and student loans!”
Alexander Batyokhtin, a 41-year-old man from the Siberian village of Sosnovka, spent six weeks shaping around 12 cubic meters of fresh snow into a three-meter high church, where his fellow villagers can now to say a prayer and light a candle.
There is no real church in Sosnovka, or in any of the nearby villages, for that matter, and people who want to visit a place of worship have to drive for tens of kilometers to the city of Omsk. This is often an impossible task for the sick and the elderly, and it was this unfortunate situation that inspired Alexander to use the most abundant resource in his village to build a temporary church. He had worked in construction for years, and even though he was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a serious illness, the man was determined to offer Sosnovka a place to celebrate Christmas and Epiphany in properly.
Creative Home Engineering is the world’s most famous company dedicated to making hidden rooms and secret doors. From wannabe superheroes, to wealthy businessmen looking for a safe space for their prized art collections, they all turn to this particular company when they want one of those fancy hidden doors that you see in the movies.
The idea for Creative Home Engineering was born in 2003, when founder Steve Humble was working as a mechanical engineer designing surgical lasers for a medical device company. He had always been fascinated by hidden doors and passageways, and that year he decided he wanted one for himself, but realized there was no one to build it for him. “I was renting a large house with a bunch of my friends at the time, and we had some extra rooms that we weren’t using. I thought it would be fun to have a secret door like I had seen in the movies, but when I did a little research I was surprised to learn that there was no company anywhere that specialized in hidden passageways,” he recalls. Soon after, Steve quit his job and started building motorized secret passageways for people out of his parents’ garage in Arizona.
Humble got a special contractor’s license created for designing secret lairs, and went on to create over 150 custom installations for clients all over the United States, before expanding globally. Today Creative Home Engineering is the world’s premier designer and manufacturer of motorized and high-security secret passageways, with a portfolio of over 500 satisfied customers from all walks of life.
You might not be able to tell by the photo below, but this seemingly average two-storey colonial brick house, in Clinton Maryland, is actually a giant Hobbit hole dug into a small dirt mound. It just happens to have a cleverly-designed facade.
Popularly known as the “coolest house in Maryland”, this unusual dwelling was built in 2006, by Formworks Buildings Inc., a company that has been designing eco-friendly earth-sheltered homes for the past 30 years. The 3,300-square-foot property features three bedrooms, including a main-level master suite, two large bathrooms, and an attached garage outback. The brick facade does a good job of concealing the fact that this is in fact an underground house, or, more specifically, dug into a small mound.
It’s hard to believe that a family with no construction experience could build a two-storey, five-bedroom house all by themselves, by watching tutorials on YouTube, but Cara Brookins and her four kids are living proof that it can be done. Their amazing story is now the subject of a book – ‘Rise, How a House Built a Family’.
In 2008, Cara Brookins took her four children (ages 7, 15, 11 and 2) and left her abusive husband in search of a better life. They moved into a tiny home outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, for a while, while they looked for place that could comfortably house her four kids. Her initial plan was to buy a house, but she quickly realized that they were either too expensive or too small for their needs. One day, they passed by a house ravaged by a tornado that had all of its inner workings exposed. It was this sight that inspired them to undertake a challenge that would change their lives.
From the outside, the Jardines del Humaya Cemetery, in Culiacan, Mexico’s Sinaloa state, looks pretty ordinary, but the deeper you go, the more you get the impression that the place is actually a rich suburb full of over-the-top mansions. These are actually the world-famous mausoleums of some of the most ruthless “narcos” in Mexico.
They say you can’t take your money with you when you die, but that doesn’t mean some people don’t try, or at least take it all the way to the doorstep into the afterlife. Even in death, members of the dreaded Sinaloa cartel love nothing more than to flaunt their ostentatious lifestyle in the form of elaborate mausoleums that cost a lot more than an average family home in Mexico. Jardines del Humaya has become famous for its impressive villa or chapel-like tombs, with people from all over Mexico, and sometimes from abroad, traveling there just to see them in person.
Visiting a cemetery in one of the most dangerous places in Earth doesn’t sound much like a trip too many people would like to make, but there is no denying that the dozens of tombs in the cemetery’s “high-class” area are worth a look. Once you pass the average-looking graves of the poorer folk, near the entrance to Jardines del Humaya, you are treated to a plethora of architectural wonders all of which seem out of place in a cemetery. There are mansion-like mausoleums, two-story villas, small chapels, and even miniature castles, all built to show the greatness of the people resting in them.
And it’s not just the outside that’s impressive about these luxurious mausoleums. According to several reports, many of them come with modern amenities that many regular Mexicans can only dream of, like 24-hour air-conditioning, living rooms, bedrooms, fully equipped kitchens, bulletproof glass, alarm systems and wi-fi. All so that visiting families and friends can enjoy their stay.
“It’s an expression of the power that they once had and a manifestation of their desire for eternity, which is natural in any human being,” Juan Carlos Ayala, a philosophy professor at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa, said about the uncanny narco mausoleums. “It’s also a demonstration for those who survive them that this man was important.”
Professor Ayala estimates that the cost of some of these lavish mausoleums reaches up to $390,000, but according to a Daily Mail article from last year, some of them actually cost much more than that. For example, the massive mausoleum complex built for Arturo Guzman Loera, the brother of the famous ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, reportedly cost $1,200,000 to build, and features several bedrooms, 24-hour surveillance and air-conditioning, among others.
The mausoleum of Arturo Beltran Lyva, ‘The Boss of All Bosses’, looks like a small castle-fort and features satellite television, wi-fi internet connection, kitchen, bedrooms and a burglar alarm. It is estimated to have cost around $600,000.
With these lavish tombs boldly flaunting the lavish lifestyle of their permanent inhabitants, it’s no wonder that Mexican authorities have been considering placing a ban on such structures, to deter young people from joining drug cartels.
Interestingly, outrageously luxurious tombs and mausoleums are not unique to Mexico’s narco culture. Earlier this year, we featured Manila’s ‘Beverly Hills of the Dead‘, a Chinese cemetery filled with mansion-like mausoleums that are also equipped with state-of-the-art facilities.
Urban Rigger, a housing and architect firm in Denmark, has come up with an eco-friendly way to provide affordable and comfortable accommodations to cash-strapped students living in big cities. Their innovative “container dorms” are made up of modified shipping containers floating on a platform in urban harbors.
For many students, having to save money for rent every month is one of the most stressful aspect of their lives, but for a few hundred lucky youths studying in Copenhagen, things are about to get a lot easier. Urban Rigger hopes to ease the financial burden on students by building ingenious modular container homes that only cost $600 a month. In the Danish capital, that’s practically a steal.
Vladimir Chaika, a pensioner from the Ukrainian city of Kiev, spent 15 years turning the staircase of his Communist era apartment building into an artistic masterpiece reminiscent of 17th and 18th century chateaus.
Vladimir says that he had always been fascinated by the interior design style of 1600s and 1700s castles and estates, and having worked in constructions for many years, repairing various structures around Kiev, he had the skill and experience needed to undertake such a complicated project. It was time that he lacked, but following an accident that left him clinically dead in 1997, he was forced to retire and ended up with a lot of free time on his hands. He was very familiar with the decorating style of 17th century French chateaus, construction materials were cheap, and after asking a friend to supply him with a variety of custom molds, he was ready to get to work.
For the past five decades, Nargis Latif has been actively advocating for the recycling of trash in Pakistan as an alternative to simply burning it all and raising pollution levels. But perhaps her greatest achievement has been developing a technique of building cheap housing for the poor of Karachi out of blocks of dry waste.
Nargis Latif’s inspiring story began in the 1960s, with a quarrel over burning trash outside her apartment. She fought hard and managed to get the burning point moved, but that was not her real goal. She wanted people to start using their waste, instead of simply discarding it or burning it, but that meant arguing with individuals who simply did not understand the benefits of recycling. So she decided to use a language they would understand – money.
With the remains of around 100 billion dead people currently buried or otherwise stored on this planet, it’s no surprise that we’re running out of space for final resting places. The phrase “six feet under” just isn’t sustainable anymore, so architects are now looking to the sky as an alternative to sprawling ground cemeteries. High-rise cemeteries are becoming increasingly popular all over the world, and the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica, in Santos, Brazil, is the highest of them all.
When Pepe Altstut inaugurated the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica cemetery, in 1983, it was only a very small building, but the demand for above-ground tombs with a view was so great that he kept expanding until his cemetery became the tallest in the world. Today, it measures 108 meters tall, features 25,000 storing units (tombs, if you will), several wake rooms, crypts, mausoleums, a peacock garden with its own small waterfall and even a chapel and snack bar on the roof.
While few regular cemeteries can be considered tourist attractions in their own right, the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica is actually one of the most visited landmarks in Santos, and acknowledged as such by the local tourism board. Altstut himself admits that his cemetery is incredibly popular with tourists, and attributes it to the structure’s notoriety as the tallest cemetery on Earth. People from all over the world reportedly come to Santos to see the necropolis where people pay big money for tombs with a view.
Inspired by a vision to create a sustainable and healthy home and way of life for their family, Benjamin and Ingrid Marie Hertefølger have built a unique all-natural house completely covered by a glass dome, on a plot of land on Norway’s Sandhorney island, in the Arctic Circle.
The Hertefølgers knew they wanted to live in an eco-home made of only natural materials – cob (a mixture of sand, clay and straw), wood and glass – but also that it had to withstand the harsh weather conditions of the Arctic Circle. Aware of the robust properties of geodesic domes, they contacted Solardome Industries about a bespoke dome to cover their new house. It had to withstand the heavy snowfalls common to Northern Norway, maintain a uniform temperature throughout the year, reduce ultraviolet radiation, minimise maintenance and act as a greenhouse for the family’s organic vegetable and fruit garden.
Growing up, I would have accepted a dingy old shack for a playhouse and considered it the coolest place in the world. But these days it’s possible for kids to enjoy luxury playhouses that cost just as much as full-size homes, thanks to ‘La Petite Maison’, a business run by American architect Alan Mower.
Working with interior designer Michelle Pollak, Mower creates what he claims are ‘the most luxurious playhouses in the world’. The structures are built using architectural stylings from around the world, including a Tudor-themed house, a Mediterranean playhouse, a San Diego villa, a saloon-like Tom Sawyer house, and more. Most of these houses have two floors and the interiors are decorated with bespoke furniture that would look great in any normal size house. Electricity and water are included, and air conditioning and heating cost extra.
Of course, these exclusive playhouses will cost you an arm and a leg. Or an hour’s earnings, depending on how rich you are. A basic model playhouse is priced at a $9,000, but the cost can go up to a whopping $75,000 depending on what extra features you opt for. But that’s nothing compared to what celebrity parents Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are spending on the playhouse they’ve commissioned Mower to build for their two-year-old daughter. It’s going to be a $146,000 mansion, complete with a walk-in closet, kitchen, a loft, a reading nook, and a living room with a functional fireplace.