Villa S, near Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
White cast in-situ concrete, slate, steel & glass
Completion date: August 2014

Frankfurt am Main

Two monolithic balcony installations, constructed out of prefabricated concrete columns and platforms, perfectly complement the scale and massing of the late nineteenth century apartment block that they abut. Both towers are freestanding as an historic preservation order protects the building’s external fabric.

The concrete’s etched finish - which is the result of extensive testing with several 1:1 samples, incorporating various aggregates and pigments - references the use of red sandstone in the door and window trims. The objective here was not to copy the building's painted treatment of the material, but rather to articulate the sandstone's core qualities - its colour, composition and texture - within a concrete template. And as an elegant counterpoint to the scheme’s solidity, self-supporting stainless steel railings neatly enclose each floor plate.

The spindles in each railing section sit within precisely aligned 50mm deep countersunk stainless steel bushings. These were collectively configured as a single unit within the pre-cast concrete mould in order to eliminate any movement.

The final component in the railing detail is a circular steel plate surround for each of the spindles - these slot into the bushings and sit flush with the floor.

Internally, the platforms are calibrated with a 2% fall to allow for drainage. 3cm thick sandstone slabs, positioned on footings, provide a safe and durable surface. Throughout the scheme, the modular nature of the building components is subtly disseminated by a 10mm shadow gap detail.

In essence, the project’s tectonic composition represents a seamless integration of making and thought, culminating in two contextually measured structures that are well-honed, well-grounded and well-proportioned.

Prefabricated bespoke concrete and stainless steel railings
Frankfurt am Main, 2013

EDITION29 HOUSED 012 is now available for the iPad.


Ian Shaw finds the exacting standards and precision of German design are his perfect fit

‘He’s more German than the Germans’. That’s what they say: colleagues, clients and friends. It’s a little weird, I’m a Mancunian, but it is flattering: German architecture is all about exacting standards and tectonic precision. They call it ‘Baukunst’ – the recognition of building as an art form – and this is what we aspire to in our projects. Ian Shaw Architekten was established in 1998. There are six of us and I am the only Engländer. We are based in Frankfurt, but we receive commissions from all over the country. We have also completed projects in the US, Russia and India.

Before moving to Germany, I spent three years in London, having graduated from Liverpool University in 1989. I worked first with Ken Armstrong – which was quite an experience. Although the firm was small, its architecture was widely published and won numerous awards for design excellence. But after a year I was looking for something more structured. I wanted to hone my detailing skills, and I when I joined Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands this is what I did. LDS also gave me the opportunity to work on some decent design projects – the wing-like canopy roof for south London’s Oxo tower restaurant building on the Thames being one of the most interesting.

Back to Europe
After three years, though, I wanted to get back to Europe – sorry, I mean mainland Europe! I was spoilt having done my internship with the acclaimed Swiss practice arb Architekten in Bern: with such clarity of thought, and its integration of design and construction, the firm does some beautiful work. The master builder ideal – ‘Baumeister’ – is alive and well out there. So when I got the opportunity to work in Germany – which comes a very good second to the Swiss – I had to take it. I had learnt German during my time in Bern. Actually, I had learnt Swiss German, but while I knew it was different, I didn’t appreciate how different. Big mistake. It must have taken me a good six months to adjust to High German (Hoch Deutsch). My colleagues wanted to speak English, but I insisted on German. They were very patient with me.

The company that I joined, and subsequently worked with for two years, was Braun and Voight, a highly respected practice in Frankfurt am Main. Within six months I was promoted to project director. This did feel a little odd because I was the youngest architect in my own team. One of my colleagues was in his early 60s. He was a site supervisor. His knowledge of construction was incredible; he gave me such an insight into the building culture over here: it’s about ‘making’ architecture, creating a sense of permanence, and being part of a tectonic tradition. I need to stress that I’m not suggesting such attitudes don’t exist in Britain. But it just feels more pronounced in Germany. Everything is taken to the nth degree. Building regulations are incredibly exacting, but it makes you sharper, more disciplined and more demanding. In Germany we just assume the very highest standards. You don’t have to apologise over here if measurements are out by a couple of millimetres – it’s done again until it’s right. And this applies to all areas of construction.

Super sustainable
Another issue that is central to building design in Germany, and has been for some time, is the environment. The country’s green credentials are second to none. The first Passivhaus dwellings, I believe, were built in Darmstadt as early as 1991. In fact, we are working with one of Germany’s leading environment engineers, Professor Tichelman, at Darmstadt University of Technology – developing our own version of the plus energy house concept. And within this work process it’s the architect who controls the costings. We don’t have quantity surveyors in Germany. Not surprisingly, this helps us appreciate how much things actually cost. Moreover, along with environmental issues, it informs how we design and how we build. This methodology applies to all our projects, both here and abroad. And yes, of course, we would love to build in the UK.

My architectural education – along with my three years of professional experience in London – taught me design theory, but the Germans taught me how to make buildings work. I still miss English humour, though. No one does irony like the Brits.

This article first appeared in the July edition of the RIBA Journal

Haus W 
Frankfurt am Main

A dynamic interplay of light and shadow defines this well-crafted cuboid.

Externally, the scheme is articulated as a zinc-clad modernist box, set into a traditional pitched roof, atop a standard two-storey house. Internally, it presents itself as a well-proportioned bedroom with an en-suite wet room, connecting with a lower-level lobby and storage area via an adjoining stairwell.

The wet room's fully glazed roof exploits the building’s south-facing aspect, as do the skylights above the staircase, resulting in both volumes enjoying changing patterns of light and shade. By contrast, the bedroom’s fully glazed north elevation provides an even source of illumination throughout the day. Two slender, full height louvre panels are symmetrically positioned either side of it; these provide natural ventilation.

Integral to the scheme is the use of oak for both the flooring and staircase, its colour, depth and texture creating a warm, welcoming environment, while elegantly contrasting with the wet room's white monochrome aesthetic.

Integral to the scheme is the use of oak for both the flooring and staircase; its colour, depth and texture creates a warm, welcoming environment, while elegantly contrasting with the wet room's white monochrome aesthetic.

Herkules Maschinenfabrik

The use of light as a building element, defining space and animating form, is central to this design project.

Three identical lightwells articulate the scheme, transforming what was once a dreary, non-descript common room into an atmospheric, versatile space used not only now as a canteen but also as gallery  for a variety of social functions including design and award presentations.

The prefabrication of the lightwells ensured that just one working day was needed to replace the old roof with the new structure, incorporating not only the light wells, but also a concealed air conditioning unit. Fresh air enters the space via an elegant linear channel inscribed into the ceiling; warm stale air is extracted via a series of small vents evenly spaced around the top edge of each light-well.

The lighting theme continues in the entrance hall, with a stainless steel canopy set within the glazed frontage. During the day, the reflectivity of the canopy animates the ambient light conditions. At night, its underside is bathed in the company’s corporate blue, courtesy of the LED lighting recessed in the floor plinth.