What exactly makes for a good house is not laid down anywhere. The question "How do we want to live?" is too personal, as is the answer. All the more astonishing is the fact that in modern residential areas, single-family houses are as alike as two peas in a pod. In a new residential quarter being built in Neuffen, a town in Württemberg, Stuttgart-based architect Henrik Isermann has implemented an ensemble of two residential buildings for his wife's family that self-confidently demonstrates how to creatively deal with the provisions of a regulatory development plan. In the context of the neighbouring buildings it gives the owners their own architectural expression, and although both buildings share the same design style, they have – as is quite common with 'siblings' – differences both externally and internally.
One house – four views
On a hillside plot running along the road, the buildings form two opposite poles and use the common garden extending between them. The three-storey residential building at the southern end of the plot is built on a clean, almost square, regular ground plan and is rather unobtrusive due to its silver fir cladding painted in a dark colour, while the second building at the front, which is also three-storey high, dominates the design: the eye-catching feature is its building shell made of pre-greyed, horizontally arranged silver fir profiles. They not only cover the long sides of the building, but also extend over the entire saddle roof area and conceal the roof structure below. Like a 'sushi mat', the battens roll across the building and give it a clearly defined, monolithic character. Neither roof overhangs nor other cantilevered components distract from this. The mitred strips are pointed. They protrude by a few centimetres at the gable ends, their shadows giving the building soft contours despite its clearly defined shape.
While the gable façade facing the valley in the west is fully glazed and recessed in favour of a narrow balcony zone, the side of the building at the foot of the Hohenneuffen castle hill is finished with a cladding laid with an exact joint pattern. It consists of diagonally cut HPL panels (high-pressure laminates) in brilliant white. Window openings of various sizes and formats are dynamically distributed across the surface. Depending on the light or dark colour of the frame, they stand out visually or tend to stay in the background. Selectively placed incisions also add emphases in the longitudinal façades. The main entrance on the north side is designed as a large white gate; on the opposite, south-facing side, a square window with a dark frame and large sliding glass door elements extends the dining area towards the terrace, pool and garden with large sliding glass doors.
'Refined shell' made of in-situ concrete and wood
The building is designed as a hybrid construction. The ground floor at street level is built of reinforced concrete and disappears in the slope. Next to the open garage entrance, which is situated underneath the terrace and runs along raw concrete walls, is the client’s private entrance. A central coatroom provides access to a small guest apartment and adjoining utility rooms, where the shopping can be stowed away quickly and conveniently. In the interior, the walls also present their bare concrete surface. Deliberately not executed in fair-faced concrete quality, their rough edges and irregularities create a unique liveliness: the black-brown terrazzo floor, interspersed with light-coloured inclusions, – which was, by the way, installed in all the rooms (including the bathrooms and showers) – and the wooden doors and window frames in a warm natural shade lend the interiors the charming appearance of an aesthetically refined building shell.
The stairs run along the longitudinal axis of the building. Precast concrete steps lead up to the main entrance zone. Here, the building's timber-frame construction is superimposed. The interior walls consist of flat cross laminated timber elements with a ready-made pine surface that was precisely prefabricated in the timber construction company's plant according to the architect's plans. In some places, filigree steel columns and beams complement the structural design.
Architecture needs expanse
The kitchen and dining area, which are connected to form a generous space, are located behind the staircase wall. The living area is sunken by two steps – correspondingly with about 35 cm more ceiling height – and only separated from the dining area by a cubic fireplace. Altogether, cooking, dining and living occupy about 86 square metres. "Rooms must provide expanse," says the architect. This is why he has repeatedly created views across rooms to the outside world on the living floors and framed these views in the windows like works of art. The dining area – reaching up to the roof ridge at a height of eight metres – creates a vertical acoustic and visual connection across the building via a gallery.
The staircase to the upper floor consists of raw steel bulkheads, which only seem to be pushed into the staircase wall and cantilever freely. On the left, the gallery as a circulation area provides access to the playroom with a sleeping platform for the grandchildren, as well as to a bathroom and a small study. Opposite, it leads to a large bedroom with dressing room. Here, too, the open roof space can be used as a reading gallery. In the adjoining bathroom, the bathtub is free-standing, while the shower and WC are mounted inside a black cube as a room-in-room installation. In order not to compromise the effect of 'living right through the building' on the upper floor, the architect designed the door to the bedroom to be double-winged, taking up the full width of the gallery. When both wings are open, a continuous movement and viewing axis extends from gable to gable along the entire length of the house.
Henrik Isermann neither likes to leave anything to chance in his designs, nor does he prefer standard solutions. But as is well known, the devil is in the details, and so he was – as he openly admits – faced with many a challenge during the implementation of his ambitious 'debut', which he was responsible for as a freelance architect with his own office, HI Architektur Design. Challenges that were all mastered with aplomb: starting with the complicated earthworks on the rather steep hillside plot with neighbouring buildings close to the property line, to building services with state-of-the-art energy technology, which included a photovoltaic system integrated flush into the roof, through to the precise design of the kitchen furnishings, with the free-standing cooking island appearing like a monolith milled out of the room-high kitchen front wall, 'leaving behind' a fixed glazing of identical size as a window.
Henrik Isermann was actively supported and advised on all decisions by his wife Hanna, who is an interior designer. A question to both of them: Building for your own family – was that a curse or a blessing? Both, they concede. Many a discussion was certainly a lot more forthright in the family circle than in a conventional and more distanced relationship between a client and an architect. At the same time, the familial closeness and the knowledge of mutual preferences and desires promoted and accelerated a common finding of creative solutions.
One thing, however, was actually very fortunate: Whereas the architect's commission normally ends after 'handing over the keys' and he no longer has any influence on the furnishing of his building, only the most beautiful interior classics and tasteful accessories found their way into this new domicile thanks to the close ties of the client's family to one of Baden-Württemberg's most renowned design furniture stores. Today the house can present itself not only from the outside, but also from the inside as a family residence with an extraordinary attention to detail.