Werner Sobek's explorations in sustainability maintain the elegance of a Minimal design for the H16 House near Stuttgart.
It’s hardly a secret that Germany has long been at the forefront of energy-saving design. Even back in the early Modern days, its health-oriented obsession with getting natural light and cross ventilation into living quarters paved the way for later passive-energy-saving strategies. In the 1920s, “zeilenbau” planning principles, calling for long, narrow housing blocks to be placed in parallel rows on a north-south axis, allowed sun and air to easily penetrate interior spaces. Although the idea itself was not new, the urban scale of its application offered a model for future problem solving.
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Today, German architects and engineers are advancing strategies for sustainable design that go far beyond the zeilenbau thinking, as demonstrated by the efforts of Werner Sobek. A structural engineer famous for such adventurous mega-schemes as Sony Plaza in Berlin (2000) and the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok [RECORD, August 2007, page 108]—both designed by Murphy/Jahn—Sobek also runs the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design in Stuttgart.
Since Sobek was trained as an architect as well as an engineer, he also likes to design buildings on his own. In 2000, he built a house for himself, named R128, in Stuttgart, that explored a number of sustainable strategies. In 2006, Sobek completed his latest house, H16, for a young family in the village of Tieringen, not far from Stuttgart. The house, which he maintains is fully recyclable with zero emissions and zero energy use, sits atop a knoll, on a 17,028-square-foot site overlooking the picturesque village. The owner, Helmut Link, whose family business, Interstuhl Büromöbel, a furniture manufacturer, is located in Tieringen, wanted a Modern, flat-roofed house, with a full south-facing view—and no curtains. The town authorities favor the more gemütlich gabled-and-stuccoed residential architecture. But Link, his wife, Georgia, and Sobek persevered. It got approved.
From the slope to the south of the house, one immediately apprehends its straightforward parti. A glass-and-steel volume, approximately 23 feet deep and 56 feet long, devoted to the living, dining, and kitchen areas, rests on a deeper, steel-framed base, containing bedrooms, roomy baths, and an office. Enclosed by charcoal-black, non-load-bearing, precast-concrete panels, this volume is about 31 feet deep and 54 feet long. Operable, double-paned, narrow windows, between 16 inches and 3 feet in width and a little over 8 feet high, bring light and air into these lower-level quarters. A third, beige-precast-concrete volume, linked by a terrace and roof deck, contains the garage and service equipment for the 4,200-square-foot residence.
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