Connecting terrace on steep slope

ARTICLE On a steep slope in southern Germany stands a house whose colours and form are both influenced by the local hunting towers and landscape. There is also a sauna, seemingly carved from the main building and placed on the other side of the inviting terrace.

The house in the Bavarian village of Irsengund was originally meant to be built in two phases: the clients lived in Berlin and initially wanted to use it as a holiday home until they retired and moved there permanently. The budget was therefore limited to just building the necessities to start with, and adding another two floors later on.

»Our idea for the first phase was to just build the top floor and have it raised on stilts, a little like the hunting towers they have in the area. Later, in phase 2, we would close up the lower part of the building by completing the remaining floors below the top one. However, the local authority rejected this design. What they saw was a tall tower that they felt didn’t fit in with the rest of the village,« explains Katja Knaus, architect and co-founder of Studio Yonder along with architect Benedikt Bosch.

She recalls that, although the mayor now loves the house, getting planning permission was a protracted process. By the time all the permits were in place, the owners had decided to move there permanently and the whole house, with all its floors, needed to be completed in one go.

»We had to change the plans around, dropping one of the floors and making the top floor an airy balcony with a bedroom, but in the end the house was only a metre lower than our original design.«

Although elements of the concept were changed, the exterior still carries references to a hunting tower via the glulam posts that frame the ground floor’s forest-green façade and support the upper floor, on which the European spruce cladding has been left fully exposed. The inset niches in the exterior create shade and more private spaces, and they also provide a link with the smaller volume located on the other side of the terrace. This sauna and guestroom annex, with a façade in the same green and the same repetitive pattern of glulam posts, looks like it was carved out of the main building and placed a comfortable distance away. These details create a common language that works with the wooden deck to unite the two volumes.

»The design is intended to offer variety – you can bask in the sun out on the terrace and relax after a sauna, or you can sit in the shade or under the roof of the main building,« says Benedikt Bosch.

As an extra feature, a tree runs right through the deck, having taken root long before the plot was developed.

»A lot of thought went into keeping the tree. It adds such extra life to the terrace, so we simply built around it. But everyone asks how the tree is doing, so it’s important to say that an arborist came in to make sure the tree was happy where it was,« explains Katja Knaus.

Placing the buildings on this particular part of the plot was the only reasonable alternative because of the steep incline.

»This was the only vaguely horizontal area where we could fit the buildings in. The topology hindered the construction process, because the steep slope made it hard to get materials and machinery to site, but I know that everyone is now happy with the position and the views you get from here,« adds Benedikt Bosch.

Apart from the concrete foundations, the whole building is wood. The lower floor is a timber-framed structure on top of which rests a CLT floor system. Above that, the topology is reflected in the exterior, with its exposed glulam posts and spruce CLT panels. The internal walls are also made of CLT. Glulam roof beams rest on the posts, supporting a ceiling made of three-ply edge-glued panels. The building is insulated externally and boarded out in timber cladding. As much as possible is made of wood primarily for climate reasons.

»It’s a natural material that we like to use alterwherever we can. We left the structure exposed in the roof instead of closing it in for both aesthetic and climate reasons. It uses less material and keeps the price down. We have no extra layers above or below the floor either, no sound insulation, you’re walking directly on the structure,« says Katja Knaus.

Benedikt Bosch adds that the bedrooms and bathrooms have been painted in a subtle palette of earth tones that provide a playful contrast with the exposed wooden frames, and all the spaces in the house are used as efficiently as possible. The rooms run into each other to form a seamless whole.

»Very little space has been allocated to the stairs and corridors, and we always try to combine volumes in an intelligent way, for a pleasing flow. We also work a lot with vertical space, like in the living room here. On paper, the space might look small, but by taking the height all the way up to the roof, with added interest from the mezzanine, the room instead becomes both airy and cosy.«

The rotated roof also plays a key role, not just outside, where the faces of the roof are twisted toward the south, but also in the feel of the interior. Standing in the kitchen and looking up to the top floor, you can see triangular areas that would never have existed if the roof had been of a more traditional shape. Rotating it creates unexpected spaces that can constantly surprise.

»We love this kind of little twist that produces really exciting interior features. It changes the perception of space, and I think things are more interesting if they’re initially difficult to understand, when you don’t get the whole resolution at once, but instead need time to understand how it all fits together, « says Katja Knaus.

The views of the mountainous landscape are spectacular, but instead of having panoramic windows that erase the threshold between inside and out, the architects have taken the opposite approach. The house is meant to be private and cosy, so a small number of windows have been carefully positioned to highlight and pick out the most special views. Like a few framed living paintings.

»On the one hand, you get a feeling of protection inside the house, which is important in such an exposed location. On the other hand, the windows help to accentuate the views we want to put on show,« states Benedikt Bosch.

The views were also why owners Andreas and Gabriele Schmucker fell in love with the plot and its surroundings on their first visit.

»At that time, we were completely unaware of how complex the construction process would be on this sloping plot. We love the setting and we love every bit of the house. It’s perfect for two, but it also works well if we have guests, because they have their own annex. We actually like this version better than the original design,« says Gabriele Schmucker.

Last autumn, they also took delivery of three sheep to help keep the grassy slopes under control. Another thoughtful solution that reflects the locality.

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