This architect’s house in Ljubljana, Slovenia with a mouthful of a name: “Villa Criss-Cross Envelope” – uses simple moves and raw materiality to achieve a sensuous living environment for its owner/designer from OFIS arhitekti. Nina Granda visits.
For any architect, the design of their own house presents a particular challenge. Whilst seemingly a project with an ideal client (themselves), the pressure to make a defining design statement or be outstandingly innovative, can itself be a block on creativity.
This architect’s family house however, situated in the comfortable residential area of Mirje near the city centre of Ljubljana, manages to nicely combine both innovative architecture and a deep understanding of a specific family’s needs. It is on the site of what was an old, very dilapidated house, which, offering no potential for conversion, was demolished, except for its front wall – so the new house’s façade follows the old building line close to the road, leaving space at the back for a garden. The local building regulations required that a distance of four metres be kept from the neighbours’ boundaries, which led to the design of the house’s as a cubic volume.
But this is no square cube – for instead of windows, generous glass areas, erase the difference between interior and exterior. Wrapping around the whole of these is a façade of adjustable metal panels, working for both privacy and as shading elements. Their punctured dot patterning creates a playful lace-like texture on the outside, while inside it makes for a soft diffusion of the natural light and of the views out.
The house’s interior is composed of generous, light and fluid spaces, mostly lined in concrete or timber. Although quite large, overall it has a very intimate atmosphere: when talking with the architect in the ground floor living area, we hear the laughter of children playing upstairs. Somebody somewhere is meanwhile playing a piano. The sounds, the music, the light, the smell of wood, all these build together creating the interior and atmosphere of this house. On the ground floor is the living area with a kitchen and dining room, which connect out to the garden. Above on the first floor are the children’s spaces, as well as services, while on the top floor, there is the parents’ bedroom and a work space for the father, who is a freelance photographer.
The materiality of the interior is raw and honest: while the ceiling and walls are concrete, the floors and furniture are all made of light oak. The furniture is handmade, which is all designed with flexibility in mind. The mess of everyday life can be hidden away easily behind elegant, high wooden walls: which serve upstairs as wardrobes and service cupboards, with no visible handles, and downstairs in the kitchen, as food and storage shelves – everything folding away behind this wooden curtain. So with one touch of the hand, a messy kitchen is transformed into a clean and cosy dining room. The furniture occupying the centre of this space, is reduced to a bare minimum and carefully chosen, while in the living area, a massive, old, wooden table, handmade by a Slovenian carpenter, creates a charmed atmosphere.
The concrete walls meanwhile have become a canvas for the children’s imaginations. There is a snowman sketch on the rough and cool surface of the living area ceiling. (“We let the children sketch here. They love it. Who didn’t dream of painting on the walls as a child?”) The combination of a disciplined, highly sophisticated aesthetic, with a sense of humour and joie de vivre continues all over the house. Inside this contemporary steel-covered cube, there is still a place for playful family life, without the need to limit it by taking special care over the house’s fabric. Stains are welcome here.
This house might be a cube, but it offers what you might call uncube living.
– Nina Granda is editor-in-chief of the upcoming magazine Outsider – first issue out this April. She lives between Vienna and Ljubljana.