The question of what actually defines “good architecture” is hotly debated. Three of the countless correct answers are: If an architect can create unimagined freedom even in difficult spatial conditions. If the design is not only about the external image of a house but also incorporates personal needs in a customized form. If the owner and architect share the same high quality standards. One of Dominic Schmid’s new projects fulfills all three of these premises. The architect from Winterthur created a special vision for living for one of his colleagues on a plot located on a north-facing slope in Kreuzlingen that was as problematic in terms of topography as it was in terms of building regulations.
Life without doors
The exterior of the house, built on a relatively small, pentagonal plot of land, perfectly complies with the mandatory alignments, height limits and distance regulations. At the same time, its interior is a spatial sculpture – an architectural promenade, an ascending sequence of rooms and areas that require no doors.
The owner explicitly requested that the rooms flow into one another and that only short or long flights of stairs should divide the home into areas, thus also creating the necessary gradation between the spaces that are more public and private.
Planning the complex geometry and the changes in floor levels was a task too monumental for simple floor plan drawings. Instead, they used countless sectional drawings and models – and drew from the wealth of spatial imagination inherent in the architect’s and owner’s talents and fostered by their years of experience.
The architect calls the interior layout a “snail.” It begins at the base of the house, where the garage, home technology center and a guest area are located next to the main entrance. From here, a central staircase leads upstairs directly into the distinguished 3.70 m high living room. The dining area, kitchen and – a bit more recessed – a TV room are a few steps up. From here, another staircase leads to the private area on the top floor. The flooring changes from concrete to oak and visually signals the changing character of the rooms. Here is where the owner’s office is located, and a few steps up is the sleeping area and an open bathroom with a specially staged bathtub: it is sunk into a pedestal and is “at eye level” with a panoramic window on one side and the floor level of an atrium on the other. This way, the bather can choose either an introverted, concentrated view of the small outdoor area or an open, unobstructed view over Kreuzlingen and Konstanz.
A perfect frame for art and furniture
The generously lit rooms with varying heights provide the perfect setting for a small but exquisite collection of artwork and furniture classics. Between Corbusier and Grcic, between Mies van der Rohe and Noguchi, a few USM Modular Furniture elements have also found their home in the guest area, the living room, the bedroom and the office. The architect has owned the graphite sideboards for years – and used some of them as office furnishings. They were reassembled for their new functions and locations in the home – modularity and multi-functionality taken literally!
Patience, perseverance and a lot of know-how
Building this unusual house required long and intensive coordination meetings with the municipality and the neighbors. Several design alternatives for orthogonal layouts in the pentagonal building were also rejected. An additional challenge was achieving particularly low energy consumption with the “Minergie P” standard certified in Switzerland, whose many requirements include a highly insulated building envelope and a complex ventilation system with heat recovery.
This example also demonstrates that good architecture demands more than just a quick flash of genius. It calls for patience, perseverance and a lot of know-how. And a little extra courage to experiment can result in something special.
Architects: Dominic Schmid GmbH, Winterthur
Photographer: Jan Mettler