skinny home

Inside the skinny home that disappears into the tree canopy of a nature reserve

Architects can design structures that seem to be impossible. They are creatives while also being masters of math and sciences. Putting all that together has resulted in some out of this world creations.  Enter “the skinny home”, or more commonly known as the House of the Big Arch. 

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The tall house in South Africa’s Bushveld ecoregion is almost completely invisible from those flying overhead. The designers weaved the house between the flora and didn’t chop down a single tree during construction.

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The House of the Big Arch 

Frankie Pappas, an architecture studio based in Johannesburg, is the genius behind this unique building. The House of the Big Arch weaves between the riverine forest and the red sandstone cliffs by the Waterberg Reserve. [1] 

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© Frankie Pappas

An elderly couple who loves nature and wanted to reside in the Waterberg Mountains commissioned this structure. The building avoids the trees around it, creating an incredible, unseen-before structure. The couple often opens up their farm to underprivileged youths from surrounding areas and educate them about the environment. The couple is extremely knowledgeable of the flora and fauna about them and they love to share their wisdom with youngsters because “There is too much beauty here for us to use up all by ourselves.” [2] 

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© dook + VISI
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As per the owner’s request, the studio was mindful of the nature around them as they built. Before they began the project, Frankie Pappas laser-scanned the whole area and created a 3D virtual forest to help them ensure their design works.  

“Any funky bulges and protrusions in the plan of the building were dictated by where trees allowed us to build,” said the team in their project description.

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© Frankie Pappas

“The underlying concept was to bridge the landscape between riverine forest and sandstone cliff, whilst raising the living space into the tree canopy, among the abundant arboreal life,” they continued. “The building is organized as one long thin building which slots between the forest trees. The shapes of the additions to the central building are dictated by the position and size of the surrounding trees.” 

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© Frankie Pappas

“Skinny House” 

© dook + VISI

This resulted in long and extremely skinny home amidst a dreamlike forest canopy. Once you walk past the entrance, the building is only 11 feet wide. The main floor holds a kitchen, dining area, a sunny living room, and stunning outdoor porch with a brick firepit.  

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© dook + VISI

Smooth wooden bridges connect the rooms of the building together.

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© Frankie Pappas

The arch that gave the home its name supports a small winging bench and an above-ground pool.  

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© Frankie Pappas

The ground floor also contains various courtyards toe display the beautiful surrounding nature, and a library and office.  

© dook + VISI

In the basement, there’s a cooled cellar to keep cured meats and wine chilled, and store food supplies. 

© dook + VISI

Because the house is in such a remote area, it runs off-grid. It relies on 172 square feet of solar panels for energy and rainwater collection. Materials such as rough stock bricks and sustainably-grown timbers, glass, and aluminum were used to increase its off-grid capabilities. The architects optimized the natural environment — such as the natural shade and ventilation — to reduce energy demands.  

© Frankie Pappas

“This building is a careful and direct response to this particular portion of this particular riverine forest of this particular portion of the Waterberg of this particular portion of the Bushveld,” said the studio. “This architecture could exist nowhere else in the world.” [3] 

All Photo Credits go to Frankie Pappas 

  1. Philip Stevens. “frankie pappas hides off-grid brick house within south africa nature reserve.” Design Boom. July 10, 2020. 
  1. Melissa Wiley. “Inside the skinny off-grid home that disappears into the tree canopy of a South African nature reserve.” Insider. November 13, 2020 
  1. Hana Abdel. “House of the Big Arch / Frankie Pappas.” Arch Daily. July 19, 2020 
Sarah Schafer
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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