Photo © Iwan Baan

House Beside a Vineyard


Stuttgart, Germany

Let's Twist: A dynamic study in contrasts, this sculptural villa is a reflection of German tradition and style, as well as of the couple who commissioned it.

By David Cohn

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There's a swirl at the center of UNStudio's House Beside a Vineyard outside Stuttgart, Germany. Principal Ben van Berkel calls it “the twist.” Two flights of stairs run diagonally across the square floor plan, crossing over each other in a single, fluid motion as they rise from the ground-floor entry to the living area and up to the gallery and master bedroom. The dynamic energy they impart sets the open living spaces into motion and directs visitors toward the cozy, glazed corners with views of ancient terraced vineyards to the north, or over the rooftops and trees to the south. Above the stairs, a curving skylight caps the sweeping space like the vortex at the center of a whirlpool.

The thrust of van Berkel's trajectory continues out to the facade and roof, both clad in custom aluminum panels, where curves distort every plane. The roof dips at the front of the house in a nod to the steep gables of neighboring houses. At the back, a side elevation curls up over the double-height glazing around the dining room, rising at an angle that mimics the slope of the adjacent vineyards. From the garden, the walls appear to rise in successive diagonal spans over another glass curtain, as if the entire house were a grand cantilevered stair. In fact, the concrete structure has only four points of continuous vertical support: the elevator shaft, pillars hidden in the kitchen, and two side walls.

The living spaces spill onto the grounds on all sides, and include two pools next to the window walls that throw shimmering reflections of light to the indoors. Van Berkel used a clay-based stucco with flecks of mica to surface the main interior walls. Washed-oak stair treads, a rough limestone fireplace, and matte limestone floors in the kitchen and dining area offer a tactile sense of rootedness and solidity. “The more you neutralize the material effects, the better the effects of spatial and conceptual organization can operate,” he says.

Against this pristine openness, an undercurrent of tension, in the form of closed, static rooms, offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the clients—a couple who commissioned the project to replace their existing house on the site. Most dramatically, a dark multiuse room, off the living area, serves as a herrenzimmer, or men's room (a German custom), dedicated to music, masculine conviviality, and the hunt. Here the husband keeps his baby grand piano, traditional leather furniture, and spectacular grouping of big-game trophies. The rippling waves of the architecture repeat in this intimate space like eddies of relief across the ceiling and walls, designed for optimum acoustics. The wine cellar, too, exudes a masculine aura with its archaic vaulted stone ceiling.

This is not to say that the rest of the house is “feminine,” or that the clients were divided about the programming and design—a point underscored in the luxurious master suite, with a sauna, sun deck, and combined dressing area and bath, which is neither boudoir nor men's club. According to van Berkel, these “territorial games” offered a welcome challenge: “We mustn't forget that the architect is essentially a territorial invader.”

With its square plan and white surfaces, the project brings to mind the classic white houses in the 1972 book Five Architects (including works by Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier), adding the concepts of fluidity and context to their formal investigations of line, plane, and curve. While the formal play of the “Five” creaks with the outmoded mechanics of manual drafting, the warped curves of UNStudio's project bring architectural form into pixelated space, where it can stretch, bend, and turn inside out.

David Cohn is a Madrid-based correspondent for RECORD.

Completion Date: November 2011

Gross Square Footage: 9,900 square feet

Total construction cost: undisclosed

Stadhouderskade 113
1073 AX Amsterdam
Tel: 00 31 (0)20 570 2040
Fax: 00 31 (0)20 570 2041

April 2012
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