Green house effect: Today's eco-homes not only have impeccable credentials – they look beautiful too

Holly Williams celebrates a new generation
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The Independent Culture

For many architects, a rugged rock face might not seem like the perfect location for an energy-efficient, stylish house. Yet the architects of Villa Astrid, near Gothenburg in Sweden, have managed to create a striking two-storey family house which not only interacts dramatically with its surroundings but which also has impeccable eco-credentials.

It was a challenge that the architects Wingardhs relished. They had to squeeze the house between two existing buildings at the same time as adhering to planning restrictions limiting the height of the roof. As well as having views of the nearby sea, the house interacts with the rocky terrain by burrowing into the sloping hill it's built on. And by using a mixture of concrete, copper and glass, they ensured the house is both energy-efficient and full of light.

Wingardhs' clients were two doctors who wanted a family home with plenty of space. The architects dug deep into the site to create a sunken decked area, with the rock face providing a natural wall. Around this space, the house bends in an angled, lopsided U-shape. The building is mostly concrete, which keeps it warm in winter and cool in summer. Foamglass insulation on the roof and triple-glazed windows also heat the shell. Finally, the house is clad in a skin of black copper panelling, which will naturally weather over the years.

Villa Astrid is one of 30 energy-efficient houses which take an imaginative approach to their natural surroundings featured in a beautifully illustrated new book, The Sustainable Home. The book charts the rise of eco-design since the late 1990s, and examines strategies used to ensure a building has a lower impact on the environment – from reducing the amount of energy used to create the building in the first place to reducing the energy consumption of the finished property. It is an indispensable guide to eco-building, renovation and decoration.

With its huge windows, sliding glass doors, and open-plan 400sq m interior, Villa Astrid is a case in point. It's surprisingly bright inside – in contrast to the dark cladding and dark lines of its exterior. The contemporary interior design is punctured by the natural world: rather than battling with the jagged outcrops the house is built on, the architects have turned a rock face inside the villa into a feature in its own right. It's the perfect blend of the natural and man-made, of style and sustainability.

'The Sustainable Home' by Cathy Strongman, £14.95, Merrell Publishers