In The Lord Of The Rings, the Hobbits live in the Shire in their distinctive dwellings known as Hobbit Holes. They're really just homes built into hillsides, with banked earth sitting atop the basic structures. While the Hobbits are fictional creatures, their homes are not, as people have been taking up residence in similar dwellings for many years. And the idea has now taken a firm hold with those interested in working with, rather than against the environment. In other words Hobbit Holes are real and, on this occasion at least, the Shire can be found in Switzerland.

The Swiss version of the Shire is the Earth House Estate Lättenstrasse located in Dietikon, Switzerland, which is where all of the exterior images in the article gallery are from. The company responsible for the Earth Houses, Vetsch Architektur, has built dozens more similar homes across the country, which is where the interior images are sourced from.

The Earth Houses are so called because they're designed to reside within their environment, blending into the natural contours of the land rather than merely set down on top of it. They're also covered with clumps of earth, which makes a lot of sense in terms of insulation, though such a design will clearly not fit in with everybody's aesthetic sensibilities.

The houses surrounding the Lättenstrasse estate are conventional, single-family dwellings, meaning this complex of underground houses certainly stands out. At least to those who know of its existence. Because of the way the houses are built into the land, no one would spot the estate who wasn't actively looking for it.

The plot of land the Earth Houses are built on covers 4,000 square meters (43,055 sq ft), with each individual house covering between 60 meters squared (646 sq ft) and 200 meters squared (2,153 sq ft). There are three houses consisting of three rooms, one house of four rooms, one of five rooms, three of six rooms, and one of seven rooms.

The houses all surround a U-shaped hill with a pond and wetland forming the courtyard. The sleeping area is set in the north of the building, with the living area to the south. The bathrooms are located in the basement, with skylights allowing natural light to seep down to the lowest levels of the house.

The basement and garage are constructed by conventional means, while the ground floor of the house is constructed using shotcrete. Insulation is provided by a layer of recycled foamed glass, while a root-resistant polymer bitumen attached to the shotcrete makes the whole thing waterproof.

We have seen similar efforts before here on Gizmag, with former soccer player Gary Neville's underground house in Bolton and Simon Dale's Welsh Hobbit Hole house both gaining attention. But this is the first estate of Hobbit-style dwellings featured. And it's made me want to live underground.

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