What do you do if your client wants a glass house but is also afraid of thunderstorms? If you are award-winning architect Thomas Phifer, you design Taghkanic House on a 200 acre (81-hectare) plot in New York's Hudson Valley. Presently for sale at US$6.75 million (or with an additional 150 acres/60.7 hectares for US$8.5 million), the house is cleverly designed to combine openness and security.

Taghkanic House is large, at 8,800 square feet (820 sm) of floor area. The most obvious feature is the 1,800 sf (167 sm) glass pavilion with 15-foot (4.6-meter) ceilings, which Phifer calls the "celebratory space." The pavilion looks out on 360-degree views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains, and from many angles appears to be sitting by itself atop a grassy, treed hill. This is due to the fact that the bulk of the house (7,000 sf/650 sm) is underground, nestled beneath a thriving sod roof. The underground rooms are built along the front and back of the house, and have large glass windows and doors to let in the day's light. The corridors between the rooms receive light via skylights imbedded in the sod roof.

Rear view of Taghkanic House, showing the outdoor pool, patio, glassed-in social space, underground rooms, and the framework of the glass pavilion (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

As mentioned above, the owner of the house liked the idea of a glass house, but wanted a bit more protection from storms. This, combined with a childhood experience with a neighbor's underground house in South Africa, resulted in the Taghkanic House's unusual hybrid nature. Mixing a sense of dwelling with nature and a largely underground house is a challenging task that was extremely well carried out here.

It is rather difficult to get a feeling for the overall structure of the house from the photographs in this article, owing to the lack of conventional features. We'll begin our tour of Taghkanic House by looking at the four sides, beginning with the following photo of the rear of the house, rather arbitrarily designated as the side with the swimming pool, then move counterclockwise around the house.

Rear view of the Taghkanic House, showing the pool, the glass pavilion, and the windows and doors for a number of the underground rooms (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

The patio and pool jut out from the center of the house, which on this side is marked by a small extension of the glass pavilion. You will notice the windows and doors of the underground rooms, which peek out from under the sod room. There are a number of trees seen growing on the roof. Actually the sod is not thick enough to hold the trees, which are anchored in additional soil within the substructure of the house. You can see on the right side of the house the surrounding terrain sloping up to meet the sod roof.

View of Taghkanic House from the right side – the ground is seen gently curving up to the level of the sod roof (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

Our first 90-degree shift looks at the right side of Taghkanic House. The main features seen here are the outline of the underground rooms where they emerge from beneath the sod roof at the front and back of the house. The trees planted on the sod roof show clearly, as does the gentle rise of the surrounding turf to meet the roof. In this photo, mesh sunscreens cover the walls of the pavilion.

A right-front angled view of the front of Taghkanic house (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

The photograph above represents a view of the house having rotated about 45 degrees counterclockwise from the previous figure. The glass windows and doors of the six front bedrooms provide superb views of the Hudson Valley, while at the same time being well isolated from the activities at the rear of the house. The boxlike structure at the corner is the entrance to Taghkanic House. It is the only multilevel portion of the structure, providing access to the glass pavilion as well as to the underground portion of the house.

Front view of Taghkanic House, showing the glass windows and doors of several of the bedrooms and the glass pavilion rising above (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

This frontal view of Taghkanic House clearly shows the relation between the underground rooms and the glass pavilion. The bedrooms are separated by privacy dividers, which effectively give each a small private deck. This photograph nicely picks up the striking landscaping elements of the overall house design.

View of the celebratory space from the left side of the house (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

Another 90 degree shift takes us to the left side of the glass pavilion. Taghkanic House is notched into a hillside. As a result, on this side the sod roof is at the level of the surrounding topography. Notice that the sunscreens are closed, but are not opaque, as you can see the surrounding trees on the right side of the house.

Taghkanic House's thoroughly stainless steel gourmet kitchen (Photo: T. Phifer and Partners)

Despite the minimalist design of Taghkanic House, it is replete with comfortable extras. Built-in amenities include six bedrooms, six bathrooms, media room, modern kitchen, dining room, breakfast nook, an indoor swimming pool, and a refrigerated cheese storage room (I have not been able to find another house with a refrigerated cheese storage room – I'm sure these must exist outside of cheese shops, but they seem to be rare).

Outside the house, there is a pool and patio, a tennis court, a bocce ball court, a shaded sitting area by the house entrance, an organic vegetable garden and a three-bedroom guest house. Access between the glass pavilion and the underground rooms is accomplished using an elegant set of stairs.

Very few of us will ever live in a house expressing this level of creativity and sophistication. Despite this, on seeing the photographs it is difficult not to imagine one's self enjoying a virtual projection into the Taghkanic House experience. Inspiring dreams and creating beauty is likely a more important contribution to civilization than is housing the wealthy. This organic architectural masterpiece excels at all levels.

Source: T. Phifer and Partners