Rising From the Ruins: Homes Built on Architectural Remains

While the English word ruin comes from the Latin "ruina"—meaning “destruction” or “downfall”—ruins can be the literal and figurative foundations for stunning new contemporary additions, insertions, and renovations.
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Ruins have long been romanticized, praised, and studied; they attest to what once existed, to buildings that were formerly whole and functioning. During the Renaissance, ruins became the subject of observation and appreciation by the cultural elite, spawning the development of neoclassical ideals and architecture. Today, ruins are still seen as evocative, ethereal, and arresting, but they are also understood to be ripe for modern interpretations and additions where contemporary architectural language contrasts with history. Here, we take a look at four projects that incorporate existing ruins as functional and aesthetic elements in new, contemporary design.

The White House by WT Architecture

Perched on the Isle of Coll in Scotland, WT Architecture constructed a new house in and around the ruins of what was locally known as "The White House," a home constructed in the mid-1700s out of local limestone. The house had long been abandoned because of structural issues that led to a deep crack in the stone wall, but it was this feature and the impressive masonry walls that led to the preservation and stabilization of the structure. The architects chose to maintain the existing stone walls, creating a partially roofless outdoor garden and an enclosed living space within the ruin, and adding a new extension. Connecting the two parts of the house—the existing stone house and a new addition built on existing stone walls—is a glazed living room that acts as a modern, light-filled link between the two areas.

The newly constructed wing consists of a combination of stones from existing walls on the property, wood siding, glazed panels, and a new roof.

The deep fissure through the end gable of the home was due to settlement of sand below the ground, but it also gives the home its distinctive character.

The glazed living room links the two distinct parts of the house, creating an H shape in plan.

Separating the interior of the home from the exterior courtyard are exposed load-bearing limestone walls.

Next to the Chapel by Bergmeister Wolf Architekten

On the site of an old farmhouse whose stone walls were in ruins, architecture firm Bergmeister Wolf Architekten chose to rebuild a select portion of it without any mortar, following the old, slightly irregular footprint. The rebuilt ruin of the farmhouse forms an "L"-shaped shield around the house, with the space between the old and the new creating an entry corridor to the interior of the house. For the new part of the home, the architects were inspired by the local architecture and construction materials of other nearby traditional buildings, and thus selected concrete, weathered steel, and wood shingles to contrast with the old stones.

The home’s location in Sterzing, Italy, meant that it was surrounded by a rural green landscape, and the architects sought to change it as little as possible.

An open-air corridor is formed between the old stone walls and the new wooden shingles.

Inside, views of both the old stone wall and the landscape beyond are emphasized.

The stone walls were built without any mortar holding them together, a historic technique that few masons use today.

Dovecote Studio by Haworth Tompkins

On the grounds of Snape Maltings, a renowned arts campus along the banks of the River Alde in Suffolk, England, architecture firm Haworth Tompkins revived a Victorian-era dovecote, a now-obsolete structure where domesticated pigeons resided. Although the red brick structure had once been two stories tall, over time it was left abandoned and lost its roof and upper floor; as part of the renovation of the whole campus, the former dovecote was maintained as a shell to house a new studio space. The insertion’s Cor-Ten weathered steel, which has aged to a dusty red, connects to and complements the existing crimson structure. In form, the insertion is reminiscent of the former building’s gabled roof, but its interiors are starkly modern and minimalist, covered with plywood and concrete floors.

The dilapidated brick structure and the smooth Cor-Ten steel create a balance between old and new.

The crumbling red building reflects the site’s romantic, nostalgic feelings from its previous industrial use. 

A north-facing skylight provides constant, even daylighting for musicians and artists staying in the studio and lightens the plywood interiors.

House I/C by SAMI Arquitectos

Local volcanic rock serves as the source of traditional building material on the Portuguese island of Pico, off the western coast of Portugal. Like many of the buildings around it, a former farmhouse had been built with a living space on the upper floor and an area for animals on the lower level, but the home had fallen into disrepair. SAMI Arquitectos constructed a new, contemporary home within the ruins, taking cues from the existing structure to create windows that align with original openings, framing views. The new concrete structure contrasts with the dark basalt stone, but it also plays off the texture of the rock, emphasizing the stone's irregular forms in comparison.

The concrete structure was designed to fit within the existing dark volcanic rock walls.

Because the site is sloped, the lower level of the home acts as a terrace for the upper level.

When openings in the new and the old building are aligned, the framed views capture new and old and let in light and air.

The interiors frame selective views of the existing rock walls, and contrast them with light finishes of white walls and wood furniture and shelving.


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