The beautiful boreal forests of Minnesota can get as cold as -25 degrees Fahrenheit on a winter morning. The ability to keep a house at a comfortable temperature is paramount, so having an active heating system is an absolute necessity—right? Not at all, says architecture firm COULSON.

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In fact, with ever more extreme effects of climate change on the horizon, the architects believe it’s our duty to find ways to lower our environmental impact while bracing for extreme weather conditions. A zero-energy, zero-waste, zero-water house that’s portable and so low-impact it’s virtually invisible may seem like an impossible dream in a setting like the one described above, but COULSON wasn’t about to take ‘no’ for an answer.

The team, including lead architect Carly Coulson, asked themselves a lot of questions before they started on the project. How could triple-zero living be comfortable, stylish, affordable, and adaptable? Could they create a sustainable design that’s as sexy as it is feasible?

An interior shot of the "Disappear Retreat" looking out onto brich forest through a glass wall.

‘Disappear Retreat’ is a series of three compact, transportable housing models incorporating passive design approaches, easily procured materials and a sense of sophisticated simplicity for a result that’s as beautiful as it is sustainable. Not only does it blend into its surroundings thanks to a stunning mirrored exterior, but the 8x10x9-foot structure generates its own energy using a pattern of thin-film photovoltaic modules set into its south wall as well as more conventional solar panels on the roof. It also collects, filters, treats, and stores its own rainwater. All of its plumbing is located indoors, so it will never freeze, and ultra-efficient appliances and electronics like an induction cooktop and LED lighting help keep its energy needs much lower than the average home in the Midwest.

The secret to its heat retention is in both its insulation and the passive solar heating it receives through its glass roof and walls in the winter, which can be modulated in warmer seasons using insulated shades. States the architect firm’s website: “The spark for the design came under the night sky viewing a psychedelic show of northern lights and imagining a small, self-sufficient retreat with a glass roof where the universe overhead and surrounding ecosystems press close, where one feels connected to the planet and can sleep under the dazzling stars and dream with eyes open.”

Available in three layouts including a basic open plan model, a bed and bath model, and a sauna model, the Disappear Retreat hides elements like its potable water tank and greywater tanks beneath the floor, keeping the interiors free for furniture and personal belongings. Its mirrored exterior allows it to blend into its environment, and a special transparent ultraviolet color prevents animal collisions.

An exterior shot of the Disappear Retreat.

“We wanted to share this experience in a design that nurtures creative minds: those who can harness these natural wonders and reveal it to others through their work and words. The project is designed for and inspired by creative work. Art, literature, music, and poetry influence the sense of place we are striving to achieve. Exploring surreal, transcendental, nouveau, abstract, bauhaus, minimalist, classical, and experimental universes,” states COULSON’s website. “The dwelling provides an immersion in nature to recharge the mind and creativity, allowing occupants to disappear into their work and the landscape.”

Photos courtesy of Dwell