Going Underground in Wales

Updated: 09/27/2013 9:00 AM KSTP.com By: Networx

Photo: Dean Jenkins/morguefile.comAnyone who read Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child probably remembers her sod house built on the banks of the creek. It was cold, dark, humid, and gloomy, thanks to the limited windows and poor aeration. Thankfully, underground building technologies have come a long way since Wilder (and the ancient architects who have been building underground for centuries), and hobbit holes of all shapes and sizes are flourishing all over the world, especially in the wake of the "Lord of the Rings" films.

One such house, known as Malator, is a bit special. For one thing, it didn't take its inspiration from Peter Jackson's epic trilogy (or Tolkien, as far as we know) -- it was built in the mid-1990s. For another, it's a truly unique and amazing underground home in the depths of the Welsh countryside that integrates modern architecture, an attention to the natural environment, and innovative features to create a home that truly stands out.

When Bob and Gill Marshall-Andrews wanted to redesign their holiday getaway on the Welsh coast, they faced some significant restrictions. Wales is famous for its harsh, dramatic, beautiful landscapes, and the country takes great pains to protect them. In this case, they weren't allowed to build in a way that would disrupt the environment or cause problems for wildlife, which meant no erection of a traditional structure.

They consulted architects at design firm Future Systems, who came up with the idea of putting the house underground. But Malator is no hole in the ground. From the rear, a keyhole door set in a hill (the hill is the roof of the house) makes the house seem naturally integrated with the landscape; it creates barely a bump in the view, along with privacy for the owners. On the other side, though, the hill cuts away to reveal a stunning bank of windows with inset portholes. The rather unusual appearance has earned it the nickname of the "Teletubby house."

The windows allow light to flood into a massive greatroom, a design trick used to make the two-bedroom home seem more spacious and free of constraints. In addition, Malator integrates bright colors, bold modern design, and other accents to increase the sense of space, freedom, and beauty. The result is a stunning home with clear, amazing views that doesn't disrupt the character of the environment one bit, no mean feat for architecture.

Not only that, but Malator was built offsite and assembled on location, reducing the environmental impact of the construction process. This smart building decision allowed the unique home to slip into the environment like an otter into a river, instead of chewing up the ground and causing chaos for wildlife and residents. Malator didn't just respect the letter, but also the spirit, of the law.

It's been heralded (rightly so) as a Welsh architectural triumph, and it's featured in a huge array of architectural magazines and feature programs. You might not be able to visit it, because it's a private home (though it is in a national park, so you can walk by), but maybe some day it will go on the market...or you could contact a Portland contractor about building you an underground home of your own.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

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