The individual home of character as the place to enjoy private family life seems to have been increasingly sidelined in these times of standard-pattern pre-assembled housing units, perhaps no longer keeping up with the need for mobility and flexibility. It therefore pleased us very much when a young family of four had the wish and the confidence to work with us to design a custom-built home meeting their needs. The objective was a flexible design that could evolve as family circumstances evolved, and would allow harmony between individual needs for time alone and family needs for time together. The house they had in mind would function like a living thing and would have a place for all the bits and pieces that make up everyday life. It would be a friendly house, with special places for feeling at peace and secure. Over a period of dialogue together, and using a series of variations, models and simulations, we reviewed in depth just what it was felt a family home should offer, and an overall concept was developed.
The building, completed in April 2005, is the result of this intensive process and reflects a very real need for new, characterful home living environments. The house in question is located in the Lichterfelde district of Berlin, in the former garden of a villa built during the prosperous Gründerzeit years of the late 19th century. The actual property is accessed via its own laneway, leading past the villa in front. As it stands transverse to the access lane, approaching visitors can look through a large window straight into the central part of the house. The glowing fire in the fireplace here is in keeping with the historic and elegant appearance of the house itself. The paved forecourt leads to the entrance area, which is designed to meet the topography of the grounds. The entrance to the house is at a sunken ground level, where there is a spacious foyer with a cloakroom and service areas. The single flight of stairs leads directly to the house’s main communal space, including kitchen and dining area. Beyond the fireplace and the freestanding stair to the next floor, and on a split level, are the living-room and the parents’ private rooms.
The upper storey has the children’s bedrooms, the gallery in front of them being intended as a shared play area. Structurally the house is a single volume, zoned off through wall and ceiling elements. The arrangement of the rooms along two parallel access corridors running from the study in the east to the patio creates an enfilade effect which can, where required, be extended or shortened by sliding doors. At the same time, the house’s longitudinal height change marks a zoning-off of private and communal space, offering the alternatives of seclusion or participation. The fireplace is at the centre of this series of rooms and can be seen from all sides. A soothing and cheering central focus. Cupboards and shelving space have been positioned along the whole length of both storeys, on north and south sides of the house, to provide the entire storage and servicing space needed for the adjoining rooms. This feature minimised the need for free-standing furniture and helped create living-space. All internal walls can be moved to meet new accommodation requirements as they arise. The organisational principles involved here were a priority in planning and the outcome contributes greatly to the restful appearance and great flexibility of the interior design. The interest generated by the external shape of the building derives from the central, hall-like interior space, in turn resulting from the remarkable horizontal displacement of the upper storey and thus also of the opening up of the interior space.