“People own or inherit houses and think: ‘What are we going to do with it?’. Even if the houses were built in later periods, they can be well renovated,” says architect Žiga Ravnikar, co-author of the Golden Pencil awarded house in Domžale.
The elderly clients, who live alone, had only two requirements when renovating the building: that the interior should connect with the exterior and that the sleeping area be on the top floor. The task was for the team of the architectural bureau A2O2 a challenge, but so much easier, as they were able to present their idea to the client on the bureau’s reference projects.
renovation The houses of MM in Domžale is also this year’s recipient of the prestigious Golden Pencil architectural award. The Commission of the Chamber of Architecture and Space of Slovenia wrote in its explanation that it is “an outstanding example of consistently designed and executed architecture” and that “this house so complete and final that it cannot bear change; neither in its exterior nor its interior. It is designed as a perfect world with its own rules that the user must accept. But when he accepts them, the house welcomes him into its sensual embrace.”
We discussed the design and renovation of the house with the architect Stamp to the Ravnikers:
We are talking about a very typical house in Domžale, what does that mean? Was it once also used as an economic facility? The house has the year 1926 on the entrance portal, although we estimate that it is even older, based on what we discovered during the construction itself. This type of small residential house at the end of the longitudinal design of the plots, which opened onto the fields, is slowly disappearing. Although the building is not protected as a monument, we thought it important to preserve this anonymous architectural heritage, as it co-shapes the image of the place.
By longitudinal design, you have in mind elongated houses placed perpendicular to the main road, with fields and meadows behind the building, probably? Yes. And I emphasize again, even if the building is not protected as a monument, it preserves the identity of the place and the multi-layered structure of the building. This is crucial for the further development and living culture of our area.
Very few people think this way? These types of decisions are difficult to make. Due to the rapid development in the 1960s and 1970s, many typical single-family houses were built in Slovenia, which are often oversized and dysfunctional. We will have to start dealing with this fund as a relevant architectural and social task. People own or inherit houses and think, “What are we going to do with it?“. Even if these houses were built in later periods, they are interesting and can be renovated well.
The client therefore decided to restore this old building, which gave the project a tick from a sustainability point of view, but how much does this kind of intervention “pay off” from a price point of view? Is that exactly why people prefer to demolish the building and build, say, a prefabricated one?
Such a renovation is not necessarily cheaper than a new construction. Usually, old houses are built from very high-quality materials, they can be renovated many times and their use can be changed, which is the most sustainable aspect of construction. We all like to stay in old rooms that carry stories and a record of time. The financial differences are not as great as we imagine at first glance.
What concerns did the clients have? Similar concerns that everyone has: what is the condition of the existing materials, how are we going to renovate such old joinery? In Slovenia, we have excellent examples of such approaches, so we knew how it could be implemented. Through these reference projects, we have shown our clients what can be done.
Well, how did you think about the redesign, how did the case study go? The answer is related to the design of the building, in which good contact between the ground floor and the outside was very important, which was the greatest wish of the investor. This is precisely why we chose polished concrete for the floor and not parquet, so that the floor emphasizes the flow of the living space to the outside space. This makes the interior spaces even more directly connected to the garden.
The essence of the renovation is a new wooden volume inserted into the existing shell, which means that you have preserved the framework of the building and placed a wooden volume inside it. This reminds me a bit of the renovation of Galeria Cukrarna (Scapelab)? In reality, the approach may seem similar, but it’s a completely different benchmark with a different program. Regarding the intervention itself – yes, even in this case (Sukrarna) the volume is hollowed out with the insertion of a new connecting part, important for the functioning of the building itself. During our renovation, we wanted all new interventions to be clearly separated from the old walls and to be separated also in terms of materiality.
That is why everything that is made new is reversible, low-carbon and made of wood. We kept the essential elements of the old building and placed a new closed volume in it with the necessary infrastructure for living – a bathroom, utility room and toilet – while the rest of the living parts make up a space of a single volume. The bedroom is on the gallery and is connected to the living area on the ground floor via a two-level space.
Why did you decide on such a design in the first place? The existing object had clear laws, proportions, dimensions. It formed a good shell, but we wanted to move away from the existing walls with interventions. Since we did not want to transform the lower floor into small rooms, we ensured the necessary level of privacy by placing the mezzanine. It was precisely for this purpose that we minimally raised the existing volume and covered it with a new, uniform roof.
By interfering with the roof, you could interfere with the shape of the building, how did you avoid this?
We devoted a lot of time to the cross-section of the building, especially to how to rest the new wooden structure of the roof on the old structure of the brick walls. Since the existing house was small, we wanted the roof, which transitions to the exterior, to remain as thin as possible. We achieved this so that the structure leaves no visible rafters.
The building envelope is insulated internally, so the roof acts as if it is connected over an insulated wooden envelope. The inner parts of the roof connect the old construction of the existing masonry perimeter of the house into a rigid structure via four steel frames. The sleeping part rests on steel frames, which makes the ground floor more open. If before this was a house with small low rooms, we loosened the edges against the existing walls, and connected the volume into a single large space. The house is intended for a couple.
The building has another special feature, namely, both the facade and the interior walls are made of wood. You even used the same type of wood, spruce, and the same coating?Inside, the materials are bright and durable, which means they also age well. In the inner casing, the spruce is slightly bleached, so that it does not turn yellow too quickly, while on the outer part we used a slightly darker, grayish glaze, which blends nicely with the whiteness of the plastered facade of the old part of the house. Since it is an urban context, we still wanted to preserve the original materiality, but on the other hand, we did not wait for the purely natural aging process of the wood.
Now, Domžale is a suburb of Ljubljana, for example, some architects have concerns about using wood in such a context, saying that it is an urban area and not Kitzbühel. How do you comment on such a reflection? The urban context is not so strong here, as it is a suburb that grew out of a village. Such construction has specific material advantages: you are staying in a house in which, in addition to the existing brick structure, which used to be made by hand and fired in the sun, everything that is new is made of wood. It is certainly more pleasant to stay in a wooden building, in Kützbuhl or in Domžale. As a contrast to the wooden surfaces, we used polished concrete for the pavement, and linoleum in a uniform gray color in the gallery part. We are always looking for suitable relationships between the new and the old, a dialogue with the existing or depending on the context.
Despite this concern, the building looks very modern, even somewhat minimalistic. One such strong cross section is the concrete terrazzo slabs just mentioned on the floor. The railing on the staircase is also metal, minimalist, white. The gallery itself is clad in thin panels – this more modern approach is visible here.Yes, it is right to show the layer of our time as well. In terms of materiality, we did not want to imitate any old era. Since the house is complex and consists of many different elements, we left everything in lighter materials, which are more pleasant to live in and also for light in the room.
But how did you treat the brick, it looks like it was plastered with lime? The existing plasters were removed, the old bricks and joints were cleaned and re-coated with a thin layer of lime plaster, which leaves the structure of the wall visible.
So I was right! It is important that the focus remains on the structure, as we wanted to introduce a sense of tactility in the room, so the wall is not smoothed and repainted. The joints were picked up to get a more beautiful structure of the wall itself.
However, the two owners themselves contributed a lot to the renovation, as they did the final work themselves. What did they do? They did a lot of finishing work themselves. In the restoration of the old windows, they collaborated with the restorer and sanded the old window frames by hand, the door was restored by the restorer. They also sanded the concrete floor in the basement to a terrazzo look. They themselves painted the paneling in the interior and exterior of the house, they participated in the details of concreting, plastering, shielding… They were present throughout the renovation process and actively participated in the construction, which lasted a year.
Perhaps a word about the upper sleeping area.One of the initial wishes of the clients was, in addition to the connection with the garden, that the sleeping area be on the upper floor. The gallery has a bathroom, a sleeping area and a multipurpose exercise area that can also be a guest room. The multifunctional and sleeping areas are open and connected, while the bathroom is closed.
The bedroom is very unusual. As said, it is open, which means you can hear sounds from the ground floor. It has a lot of wood and not the typical white walls, pictures or plants, which can give an unusual impression, almost a mountain cabin. Let me ask another way, how does it feel inside her?Despite the fact that it is connected to the living area below, it feels like its own world. A full wooden fence visually separates the bedroom from the ground floor, so that you are not directly exposed from any place. It has a skylight that lets the morning sun into the room. Although there are no white walls, they are very bright and reflect light into the room. Since the house is intended for two people, a couple, this leaves a certain amount of freedom and departure from the typical spatial design.
Why didn’t you use curtains in a certain area, say in the living room, where there are large panoramic windows, or in the sleeping area, to soften the space a bit?Softness in the bedroom is created by light, with endless games of shadows. Therefore, the curtain would be just an extra, decorative element that we did not need in this building. The large panoramic window on the ground floor opens directly onto the walled garden, has a translucent roller shade on the inside and a folding wooden wall on the outside. In this way, the owners can adjust the degree of privacy and shading themselves, depending on the time of year.