New take in heritage setting

ARTICLE Two new buildings add to the site of an old farm in Halland, Sweden. The new additions have a more modern look, but the material and design chime with the landscape’s traditional heritage.

In a space where the forest opens up in Rörbäck, east of Varberg, two newly built, elongated buildings combine with three older structures to create a farm setting. Both the farmhouse and the barn follow in the footsteps of unsalvageable old buildings. With the exception of the concrete slab, the new buildings are made entirely using a combination of Swedish pine and spruce that has been left untreated in order to age gracefully over time and gain a grey patina. Opposite stands an old stone building, which now has a new thatched roof.

»The buildings on this site are subordinate to the forest, and they are built of the same material. The old stone building against the new ones in wood is a great combination,« says architect Petra Gipp, whose studio was commissioned to design the two new buildings that couple Anna and Caspar Sandgren rent out for social gatherings and holidays.

Ten years ago, the Sandgrens bought some extra land to add to their forest holding, and that came with a farm, Rörbäck, which had been abandoned for a couple of decades. The main building was on the brink of collapse and could not be saved, but they wanted to preserve the existing farm setting.

»These Halland farm buildings with a pitched roof are protected, so you can’t change them even if you wanted to. Our idea was to insert the new buildings into the old cultural tradition – it felt both fun and appropriate. So we stuck with the basic principle of the long house with living accommodation at one end, and the stables at the other end, with a pitched roof of course,« says Petra Gipp.

In this case the stables were replaced with a winter garden that has full-height windows and self-opening skylights. The exterior and roof of the new buildings are clad in untreated Gotland pine and the interiors are lined with a custom range of Swedish spruce. Everything is built using timber framing.

The buildings stand on the site of an old Halland farm, and there was an interest in retaining the original layout, but the architects wanted to update it.

»We were keen to create a contemporary look by pulling together the design. Not having any projecting eaves creates a more coherent form and volume, resulting in a modern take on the traditional building,« says Petra.

The roof is an exciting structure – untreated wood in a board-on-board configuration running vertically with the pitch of the roof. At the bottom sits an internal gutter that extends beyond the gables. There are no downpipes or hanging gutters. The internal gutter drains rainwater away via a number of spouts along the side that are held in place by forged stays attached to the façade.

“There used to be a problem with wooden roofs and damp, and you had to lay sheet metal underneath. But with this traditional boarded roof system, the boards are arranged so that the water runs off rather than pooling and damaging the wood,” says Petra Gipp.

Mattias Andersson, the chief carpenter and main contractor, is an experienced woodworker. He explains that every material has its downsides, and for wood it is the risk of rot if you build things incorrectly, so he was keen to give the roof extra protection.

»I haven’t worked on a boarded roof before. We put down proper roofing felt, which was welded at the joints to ensure that water couldn’t get into the structure. The boarded roof was then laid on top using extra big battens and counter battens to get as much air underneath and so that the water could drain away if it did get under the boards,« he says.

The architecture of the long farmhouse gives no indication of what awaits inside. At ground level, you move along a wall that is closed and wood panelled – except for a projecting bay window. Coming through the main door, the building opens out in both directions, with the orangery to the right and the actual living area to the left. First comes an open kitchen, then a passage that takes you along the whole façade, with rooms leading off. At the far end, there is a living room with large windows.

Arkitekt Petra Gipp

»The length of the house ends at the courtyard and opens up towards the forest, because that’s where most of the windows are. But it’s great to have the kitchen section with its bay jutting out onto the courtyard. You can curl up there and be in an intermediate space between outside and in. Plus it has contact with the little stone outhouse and the barn,« says Petra Gipp.

The large windows in heartwood pine are positioned so they connect with the forest. The inner spaces have a relationship and interact with the outer spaces. The forest outside is ‘forced into’ the rooms, as Petra Gipp puts it. The volume of the rooms is also impressive, and because the walls and ceilings are lined with untreated wood cladding, there is nothing to stop the eye, giving a huge sense of space.

»The height inside is like experiencing the volume of the forest,« she adds. As well as the architecture, the interior was also designed and chosen specifically for Rörbäck.

Client Anna Sandgren is an interior architect, and has been closely involved in the whole project. After much research, she sourced the exterior cladding from Gotland. The island’s wood is high-density and has high levels of resin acids which combat rot. It is important to use heartwood pine, otherwise spruce should be used. Anna also took care of the interiors herself, designing the kitchens, bathrooms, all the fixtures and fittings, the lighting and the furniture. Husband Caspar contributed too:

»We felt it was only natural for the buildings to be made entirely of wood. We run our own certified forestry operation, which I work on full-time. We also reused the foundation stones from the old buildings for outside steps, retaining walls and stepping stones in the garden. It feels great to have the old now conversing with the new,« says Caspar Sandgren.

The buildings sit on a cast concrete slab. Indoors, the concrete has been polished and soaped and runs throughout the ground floor.

»Concrete is best for foundations, as well as creating a wonderfully distinct contrast where the wood and concrete meet,« says Petra Gipp.

Generally, she enjoys working with a single, prominent material in the projects that the practice takes on – in this case wood from floor to roof.

»It’s like carving a space from a block of wood. You sculpt the building. Wood enables you to work on a spatial and sculptural level, playing with details, different woods and treatments, while still keeping to the same material.«

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