Villa S

Villa S sits on a hillside above the historic town of Schriesheim, in Baden-Württemberg, in southwest Germany. From its elevated site, the building offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside: to the south, the Black Forest; to the west, the Palatinate and the Rhine Valley; to the east, the Odenwald mountain range; and in the foreground, on a neighbouring hillside, the ruins of Strahlenburg Castle, built circa 1295. Within this setting, the project presents itself as an elemental two-tier structure in white cast in-situ concrete.

The concrete has been well honed, the culmination of years of perfecting its use, perfecting the right mix, the quality of shuttering and the waxes applied, to ensure a smooth matt finish. Here it is used within a massing composition that generates a strong sense of place.

The lower level is articulated as a heavy concrete cuboid - an extension of the earth, almost. The walls are Romanesque in stature, which is the result of the double concrete wall system, the solidity and density of which is strikingly on show at the front of the house courtesy of the deeply set glazing. Structurally, the internal walls are loadbearing, so allowing the outer walls to function as formidable facing. Within this block, the bedrooms and bathrooms are safely cocooned. Above, the pavilion like configuration engages with the landscape and the elements.

The ground floor plan is made up of three interconnected but well-defined areas. On the north side, the garage, entranceway, and an external staircase leading down to the lower ground level and garden. The living space, kitchen and the building’s stairwell define the central area, with the upper landing providing access to the garage as well as to a toilet and washroom facility. The large terrace, on the south side, accessed via three sliding glass panels, completes the 135 sqm ground floor area.

The downstairs layout is larger, measuring 175sqm. This comprises two south-facing bedrooms, with floor to ceiling glazing, both having en-suite bathrooms; a central area, which is capable of accommodating two additional well-sized rooms; and, towards the rear, a utility and washroom, a general storage space, and a dedicated room for the building’s electrics and heating system. Ceiling heights measure 2.6m for the lower level and 2.85m for the ground floor.

From a volumetric standpoint the main living area takes centre stage, its spatial grandeur amplified by the expansive vistas that its location commands. These are framed and contained by the continuous inside-outside Brazilian slate flooring and the roof's south-facing 2.6m cantilever. On the north side of the building an equally bold tectonic display defines the entranceway, with a seemingly gravity defying open canopy delivering a dynamic interplay of light and shadow.

Throughout the scheme the villa's clarity of composition is enriched by the Meranti doors and window frames which provide a strong aesthetic counterpoint to the white concrete, while elegantly complementing the slate flooring, both indoors and outdoors; and the opaque matt glass panels that form part of the fenestration.

Within this framework, the building's bespoke light fitting delivers internal and external coverage, works within the structural parameters of the concrete ceilings, and harmonizes with the architecture's exacting, pared-back aesthetic. Existing fittings couldn't meet these requirements, hence the project developing its own luminaire.

The outer casing, which measures 12cm x 12cm x 8cm, is milled from a solid block of aluminium. Internally, the fitting comprises 49 1W LEDs mounted on a platina plate, combined with a highly polished stainless steel reflector and a specially satinized plexi-glass cover. The result is a low energy, high performance lamp that delivers an even spread of emitted light. The unit sits flush to the ceiling, its visible aluminium edging and matt glass finish harmonizing with the surface of the concrete.

The villa's offset long axis orchestrates the lighting layout, hence the asymmetric spacing of the three lamps along the south-facing cantilever. Save for this subtle lighting detail, the south façade's symmetry robustly counterbalances the asymmetrical arrangement that organises the north elevation.

This dialogue between the end compositions perfectly bookends the villa's earth-sky narrative; architecture as visceral, experiential space; a celebration of building, dwelling and place-making.

Villa S, Schriesheim, 2014
White cast in-situ concrete, slate, wood and bespoke lighting