As the adage goes, home is where the heart is. It’s our place of ultimate comfort and community, no matter the scale or site – from a quirky apartment in the city to a dreamy escape in the country. Our favourite homes of the year are character-filled places that appeal to that desire for respite in an increasingly hectic world, while pushing the parameters of various typologies and processes. We are enamoured by new approaches to ecological architecture, work-life balance, multi-family co-habitation, high-rise technology and more. Wherever innovative architecture meets everyday needs while elevating life itself, our top houses of 2023 shows that great design has a big heart.

These are our top 10:

top houses 2023 house by Omer Arbel
Photos Fahim Kassam, here and below.

The Dream Home:75.9, British Columbia, by Omer Arbel

Draped by the hay-field landscape, this jaw-dropping British Columbia home by Omer Arbel represents the height of the Vancouver designer’s material experimentation. It all began with the idea of a fabric-formed mushroom column. Rather than using disposable wooden formwork, Arbel employed a series of plywood ribs arranged radially over which he stretched a textile to pour a concrete column capped by a lily-pad expanse. After building his proof of concept in-situ for the client, he was hired to design the entire home, where 10 of these pillars, the tallest ones rising 10 metres, support a quartet of double-height pavilions planted horizontally. The effect: a 740-square-metre home that appears as a primordial architecture that unfolds across the landscape like a series of berms.

top houses 2023 interior by Omer Arbel

Every space and detail in the glass-and-cedar home is curated to the nth degree. Omer’s various light fixtures, produced by his brand, Bocci, bring an ethereal quality to the indoor spaces, which are otherwise characterized by polished concrete floors and elegant wood railings. A lush, Japan-inspired indoor garden delivers the environment directly into the built form, as do the magnolia trees that are planted into the hollowed tops of the columns and rise along the home’s roof.

If architecture can also be a dreamscape – its potential to inspire awe one of its highest achievements – Arbel’s latest house is a vision. It may be an exclusive realm for an exclusive type of clientele, but it shows how far a bold practitioner can push the argument that architecture is art.

top houses 2023 19 Waterloo facade

Photos by Anson Smart, here and below.

The Whimsical Urban Infill: 19 Waterloo Street, Sydney, by SJB

This whimsical residence took home the People’s Choice at the 2023 AZ Awards — and for good reason. Designed by (and for) SJB director Adam Haddow, the home, located in Sydney’s Surry Hills, is proof that even the smallest spaces can pack a punch. Haddow and his partner wanted to downsize without sacrificing functionality or style. When they stumbled across 19 Waterloo Street, they set out to design a mixed-use house, which includes a self-contained apartment and retail storefront. With a footprint of just 30 square metres, this programmatic intensification was a tall order. But SJB set the bar even higher with its sustainability ambitions.

While the original plan was to use rammed earth construction, the architects changed their minds upon discovering hundreds of pallets of unused bricks that had been rejected from the local Phoenix Central Park project and were slated to be crushed for road base. To reduce embodied energy, many other building materials, including timber floors salvaged from a demolition project in Rose Bay, were reclaimed or recycled. When that was not possible, locally sourced and renewable materials were prioritized (not to mention, the home’s compact size meant material needs were reduced in the first place). The house adopts Passivehaus principles and is 90 per cent self-sufficient with regards to electricity due to rooftop PV (which also powered the construction process) and battery storage.

top houses 2023 19 waterloo bathroom
Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

While SJB took a minimal approach to material use, the home’s quirky architectural language, inspired by the films of Jacques Tati, revels in maximalism. Punctuated with geometric openings that animate the street front, the façade is a radical departure from the surrounding buildings. The interior, too, is a study in colour and texture. More intimate spaces such as the closet and bathroom are bathed in bold red hues, whereas the kitchen experiments with contrast, with stainless steel and mirror countering the warm brick flooring and timber ceiling. The pared-back circulation areas, living room and bedroom, meanwhile, offer visual reprieve from the home’s more dramatic rooms. With an innovative program, playful aesthetic, and sustainable ethos to boot, 19 Waterloo Street is a triple threat in every sense of the term.

top houses 2023 CoBe mixed use
Photos by Luc Boegly, here and below.

The Ideal Mixed-Use: Pôle Laherrère, Pau, France, by CoBe Architecture & Paysage

Typological boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred, and there is no better example of this trend than Pôle Laherrère. Designed by CoBe Architecture & Paysage, this mixed-use development in the burgeoning Saragosse district of Pau, France, merges affordable housing, offices and retail to create a vibrant community. Though the district, designed in the 1950s and ’60s, is in a prime location near the city centre, it is also a social housing hub for 14,000 residents. Due to these factors, the government flagged the area for investment in architecture and related infrastructure such as bike paths, public transportation, and a heating network. Replacing an abandoned hospice care centre, Pôle Laherrère is just one part of this urban renewal program, with the remaining projects to be completed by 2027.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

The complex comprises two 11,210-square-metre L-shaped buildings modelled on the idea of a village square. Each structure has direct access to the public plaza and a tree-lined pedestrian street runs between them. At night, the square is beautifully lit, allowing people to feel safe at any time of day. One building houses residential units for 116 students and 60 young workers along with shared common spaces, while the other serves as an entrepreneurial hub with offices, incubators, training facilities, and retail at grade. The development also includes a cooking school, a vegetable garden, a multi-purpose event space, a police station, restaurants and employment services. While the units are modest (offerings include 17-, 24-, and 33-square-metre layouts to accommodate those living alone, couples, and shared accommodations), the architects took care to design comfortable, liveable spaces with ample natural light.

Both structures embrace the same, elegantly understated material palette — a base of low-carbon concrete with a wood-framed volume above. These bases take the form of classical yet contemporary arches inspired by the local vernacular, which activate the ground level. From a distance, formwork markings on the concrete lend it the appearance of natural stone. Thanks to the buildings’ post and beam construction, the spaces will be able to adapt as programmatic needs change. Bringing both economic opportunities and much-needed housing, Pôle Laherrère is a shining model for community-centred design.

top houses 2023 apartment in prague
Photos by Radek Úlehla, here and below.

The Artistic Apartment: Vladimír Bachorík Apartment and Studio, Prague, Czechia, by Neuhäusl Hunal

Like nearly a third of all Czech residents, sculptor and glassmaker Vladimír Bachorík lives in a panelák. Built in the post-war era, these prefabricated buildings provided rapid, inexpensive mass housing for an urbanizing nation. Decades later, however, many of the Soviet-era apartments have been retrofitted in striking individual style. To re-imagine Bachorík’s Prague home, local designers Neuhäusl Hunal re-made the 71-square-metre abode into a sculpture in itself. To transform the space into a hybrid of home and studio, the designers created an elegantly raw — and radically open — interior.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

With load-bearing concrete walls and plumbing connections as the only immovable constraints, Neuhäusl Hunal devised a new floor plan, introducing curved glass motifs throughout. Deftly balancing openness and enclosure, the translucent glass blocks welcome light deep into the space, while strategically creating privacy in the bathroom and sleeping area. “Our aim was to use a hybrid typology and achieve the highest degree of freedom, light and generosity,” say Neuhäusl Hunal. “Boundaries and functions are blurred in terms of plan and material: the maximally open and flowing space without doors is thus divided only by arched half-sections of U-profiled glass. These translucent glass blocks of high order ensure the penetration of light. Their materiality and character naturally refer to the client’s lifelong work.”

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes
Photos by Cristóbal Palma, here and below

The Ultimate Cabin: House in the Trees, Chile, by Max Nuñez and Stefano Rolla

Occupying a small, natural clearing in a remote region of the Chilean Andes is a curious structure that could be easily mistaken for a NASA lunar lander that has lost its way. This ambiguity is intentional. Considered by its architect Max Nuñez as a “site-specific piece of technology,” the House in the Trees is purposefully unconventional and unobtrusive – and staunchly anti-mimetic. In reality a family’s winter retreat for back-country skiing, the futuristic watchtower-like volume sits lightly on the land, embracing panoramic views with minimal ecological impact. “A house in this environment should be a super-light element, affecting the vegetation around it as little as possible, generating a minimum footprint on the ground,” notes Nuñez, who worked closely with fellow architect Stefano Rolla on the project.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

Held aloft by four supports and a diagonal brace of structural columns, the angular glass-and-steel house follows a three-level vertical layout, with each elevation serving a separate function. The translucent glass-wrapped entrance base – significantly more compressed than the upper portions whose large overhangs shield the residents from snow fall – doubles as storage for unloading winter activity equipment. A perimeter lattice beam supports the second level and allows more floorspace for the bedrooms and private areas without compromising flow or views.

The upper-most level, meanwhile, follows an off-kilter A-frame configuration, which results in a soaring double-height space for the living and kitchen areas. To counter the coldness of the standing seam steel cladding and steel skeleton (which were prefabricated and pre-cut off-site to expedite on-site construction time), wood planks line the floors and what walls there are, the warm tones of the organic material providing an inviting backdrop for the minimal built-in furnishings. Far from the traditional cabin in the woods, this unique dwelling is an archetype unto itself.

A Warsaw apartment by design studio Mistovia features a a round pink dining table in front of a feature wall clad in Alpi Sottsass veneer. To the side, another wall is glad in glass block. top houses 2023
Photos by Oni Studio, here and below.

The Eclectic Reno: Apartment, Prague, by Mistovia

It can be easy to execute a well-ordered home when you have space in spades — but it’s all the more impressive when your living arrangements are shrunk down to a compact 45 square metres. In a Prague apartment unit, Katowice-based interior design studio Mistovia used a high-impact material palette to distinguish zones dedicated to different activities. It helped that the unit’s tenant is an art director, granting her designers permission to make bold visual choices.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

What the unit lacks in space it makes up for in personality. As we outlined in our tour of the project earlier this year, Ettore Sottsass Alpi veneers define the kitchen, while the bedroom embraces mauve curtains and a violet wardrobe. The dining area (which features a second Alpi veneer) is anchored by a pinkish-orange — dare we say Peach Fuzz? — table by Bruno Rey, while a bright green coffee table helps distinguish the adjacent living room area. To establish a consistent, slightly more muted backdrop to the space’s select pops of bright colour, microcement floors and stainless steel accents appear throughout the home. The outcome is a testament to the possibilities of apartment life. With the right approach, two small rooms can be transformed into a fully formed home.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes
Photos by Kilian O’Sullivan, Tom Van Schelven, here and below.

The Green Machine: Green House, Tottenham, by Hayhurst & Co.

Recently awarded House of the Year by the Royal Institute of British Architects, this residence adapts traditional riad architecture (a Moroccan style of construction that builds homes around interior courtyard gardens) to create a back-alley family abode. From the open-concept living spaces on the ground floor, a bright green steel staircase leads up to five bedrooms wrapped around a skylit atrium filled with lush greenery. But the project’s green bona fides run even deeper.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

Indeed, the architects at Hayhurst & Co. made sustainability a main priority of their design. Framed with cross-laminated timber, the house also features reclaimed concrete blocks and recycled cork rubber flooring. Meanwhile, solar panels and air-source heat pumps reduce the residence’s energy demand, while sliding polycarbonate screens along the facade bolster performance by providing shading and circulation as needed. Despite a tight site and constrained budget, the end result is a spacious oasis. The ample daylight within is put to good use, too — one of the owners is a photographer who conducts shoots at home.

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes
Photos by Annika Feuss, here and below.

The Sensitive Update: Reform House, Freiburg, by Justies Architekten

For the Ekkernkamp-/Majer family, the kitchen is the heart of the home. After the transformation of the two bottom floors of their 100-year-old Art Nouveau townhouse in Freiburg, Germany, into a single unit, the open-plan basement kitchen naturally became a hub of activity. With a glass-fronted extension that opens directly into an exposed concrete patio, this expansive design by local architecture firm Justies Architekten stands in contrast to the rest of the house, intentionally differentiating between the old and the new. To ease this transition, the addition of interior design touches like Reform’s PLATE cabinetry (designed by David Thulstrup) with the raw and tactile feel of the hand-brushed aluminium fronts and stainless-steel countertops re-injects harmony. 

Top 10 of 2023: Our Favourite Homes

Maintaining the integrity of the historic four-floor home while adapting the space into a more liveable environment, this fusion of indoor and outdoor space is a living success. With sunlight pouring in and the smell of fresh air, the space truly comes to life. The Ekkernkamp-/Majer family can happily keep their sliding glass doors open all summer long, inviting the garden to take a seat at the – kitchen – table.

top houses 2023 india house
Photos by Ekansh Goel, here and below.

The Multi-Family Marvel: House of Tranquil Rooms, Pune, India, by Craft Narrative

Featured in our Jan/Feb 2024 issue, this house for two farmer brothers by Craft Narrative harmonizes indoor and outdoor spaces. More important, it allows the two families that call it home to have a sophisticated, “urban” home on their parcel of agricultural land.

House of Tranquil Rooms in India

To accommodate both families, the architects arranged a series of private spaces for each family around the central courtyard – where a mango tree provides the project with symbolism and its occupants with aromatic sustenance – and created double-height rooms, such as the living area (pictured) where they can gather.

With apertures in walls that open onto other rooms and onto the outdoors, each space feels fluid and natural. The rooftop epitomizes this indoor-outdoor connection; through this plane for both families to view their land and to celebrate both quotidian and seasonal activities, the central courtyard’s mango tree rises up and connects the home to its surroundings once again.

top houses 2023 tower sauron brooklyn
Peak High-rise Living: The Brooklyn Tower, New York, by SHoP Architects

Its height alone – 325 metres – was set to indelibly alter the skyline of its namesake borough. Add to that its irregular form and expressive facade and the Brooklyn Tower has successfully cemented itself as a compelling new landmark (one that locals have wryly christened Sauron) amid the standard rectangles that dominate its surroundings. Designed by SHoP Architects (for JDS Development Group), the first supertall skyscraper in the neighbourhood is anchored by one of the area’s original icons, the Dime Savings Bank, whose Classical Revival-style hexagonal motifs and rich materials had heavy influence on the futuristic tower’s composition.

Widest at its base, the hexagonal residential building tapers at it rises, with staggered setbacks resulting in a unique geometry before culminating in a spiky crown. Concave marble columns at street level transition into dramatic blackened steel panels that move from bronze to deep midnight as they climb upwards, while bronze and copper pilasters with a convex profile strengthen the overall verticality of the six sides. The effect is one of pure elegance and intrigue.

The interiors of the approximately 550 units were designed by local firm Gachot Studios and feature a material palette reflecting both the new tower and the original bank, with reams of marble, wood and hexagonal mosaic tiling instilling a sense of warmth and character; full-height windows present covetable views of the metropolis and flood the spaces with amble natural light. Striking for both its originality and reverence for the past, the Brooklyn Tower sets a new standard for the creative district and ushers in a fresh perspective for conventional residential architecture. 

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