One of the most unique holiday homes we’ve ever seen, NCaved, on the Greek Island of Serifos, is a dwelling partially buried into the rocky cliffside. Three levels ascend the hill, each holding an exposed terrace and interior space buried in the earth. The unique summer retreat is the work of Mold Architects, a design firm based in Athens.
The site’s exposure to the elements, as well as a desire to preserve the natural landscape, drove the subterranean design concept. Northerly winds pound the site constantly, and the harsh Greek temperatures makes cooling homes far from energy efficient. Burrowing the home in the cliffside was a clever way to solve both practical problems, and the near-vertical terrain of the site was the perfect setting for this unique structure. A bonus, but hardly an afterthought, is that the underground structure preserves the scenic view. And scenic it is: the panoramic views from NCaved include the rocky hills, sparkling ocean, and endless blue sky.
NCaved comprises three levels; organised with the private rooms at the uppermost level, the common areas at the mid-level, and guest rooms on the lowest level. Even though the majority of the interior is underground, each room receives an ample amount of natural light from the sea-facing floor to ceiling windows. Due to the terraced nature of the architecture, each level also has an outdoor terrace. The result is a wonderfully comfortable habitat on each floor, with none feeling obscured from the idyllic landscape.
While still very minimal, the interior finishes seem to deviate a bit from the cold structure of the exterior. The interior spaces feel warm and welcoming, a relief from the harsh landscape. Soft wood covers the floors and is used as vertical panelling on the walls. Board form concrete walls continue the wood theme, although in a very different style. Accents of black, on stair rails, fixtures, and the kitchen island, tie everything together. Only the concrete ceilings hint at the raw structure of the home and remind one that they are, in fact, standing under the earth.
Perhaps the most unexpected material on the interior is the rock: natural and multi-coloured, it spans dramatically across several walls in the residence. The same rock is used structurally on the exterior as a retaining wall to hold back the earth and form the terraces. Using the same rock on the interior is a gentle nod to the uncommon design of NCaved. Even as the windows capture the bright Greek sunlight and the outdoor patios stretch towards the sea, the rock calls to mind the architectural achievement that made an underground home possible.
Whether viewed from above or from inside, landscape is a key component of NCaved. It is, of course, the most visual component, as the home has not much above-ground design to speak off. Yet the landscape is also the guiding philosophy of the design, which serves to both protect from it and attract the resident towards it. Mold Architects’ concepts call to mind the work of Tadao Ando; both architects share a common goal of using design to enhance the natural environment.
NCaved is dramatic by nature—how can an underground vacation home not be? The home seems to make the impossible possible; a comfortable, light-filled house, protected from the elements, and bearing almost no obstruction to the landscape. It seems too good to be true, yet Mold Architects brought it to life, and with it, a new form of minimal architecture—one that is nearly invisible.