Tetra House is a train of wood and concrete blocks mounted on branching pillars
by Jerry ElengicalFeb 03, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jun 27, 2022
Kaunas, the second largest city in the Baltic nation of Lithuania, has a new monumental expression of modernist architecture in the form of a residential design project by local practice Architectural Bureau G.Natkevicius & Partners. A dramatic spectacle in exposed concrete and glass, featuring soaring cantilevers, strong geometric design sensibilities, and a restrained yet tasteful material palette, the structure occupies a sloping site near the city centre, within the interwar villa district, and is blessed with a panoramic view of the urban landscape around it. Bridging the contrasting urban grains along either of its sides - featuring neighbourhoods of older low-rise housing, and newer apartment blocks respectively - the building is an imposing sight to behold, but not one that seems out of place in its setting, by virtue of its intimate dialogue with nature as well as the streetscape it inhabits.
Approaching the structure from either end of the bounding main road creates two intriguingly different visual scenarios - where the home appears to either sink into or rise from the topography depending on the observer’s position. On following the slope of the terrain downwards, the land gradually recedes below the line of sight as the structure itself triumphantly emerges into the frame, highlighting the incline even further. "Looking from K. Būgos Street, the house looks like a small object, but descending towards Trakų Street, it suddenly appears from the slope and approaches to the scale of the apartment buildings, creating a transitional volume,” note the architects. Structurally, the residential building consists of three levels: an eight-car garage at the bottom along the street, a ground floor with a landscaped terrace, and a cantilevered first floor articulated as a cuboidal mass that shades an open space below.
Considering the absence of a strong brutalist architectural presence in Kaunas, the building is a unique addition to its setting, as earlier modernist architecture within the region generally adhered to other stylistic traditions. "The client was influenced by Ricardo Bofill’s La Fábrica, which repurposed a cement factory in Barcelona for his offices. As a brutal, industrial building of postmodern architecture, immersed in an extremely green environment, it left a decisive impression on him,” shares the design team. “Precisely that naturalistic angle - the combination of brutalist architecture and nature creates a beautiful relationship, and it provided us with the impetus to adopt this aesthetic trajectory,” they add.
Furthermore, the abundance of greenery in Kaunas was a prime factor in the firm’s decision to embed the structure within nature, lightening the strong statement made by the concrete architecture. "The aim was to create a natural, brutalist object and frame it in a boldly expressed relief, without changing the relief itself too much. By putting the building into an existing soft underlay and allowing vegetation to grow while preserving as many trees as possible and planting a new green lining, we aimed to drown the house in the nature surrounding it," the architects relay. A series of concrete slats encircles the plot along the street, generating a subtle but permeable enclosure that lines the sloped earth to define the boundaries of the site.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the building’s outward appearance is the first floor volume, hoisted above the landscape, with a circular fenestration punctured into its front face. Eerily reminiscent of the capsule pods in the façade design of the recently demolished Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, there is an underlying element of modularity throughout the design: from the the proportions of the constituent concrete masses to the rhythmic array of slats dressing the glazed openings.
"Of course, this house can be associated with the Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa due its scale and box façade, as the apartment building's exterior featured such elements. However, this is by no means a direct link or an attempt to imitate - although we do respect its aesthetic sense and find that a distant connection between these two objects is pleasant," reveals the firm. They add, "The motif of round windows is not foreign to Kaunas and was commonly used during the interwar period, so we cannot deny that it influenced our design for this particular house. Additionally, one of the most iconic and expressive buildings of interwar modernism in Kaunas - a house designed by architect Arnas Funkas on K. Donelaičio Street was also one of the sources of inspiration, especially with its use of a large round bay window on its front face.”
Punched into the centre of the lowest concrete section of the house, the entrance to the basement garage faces a pathway leading towards a concrete staircase which links it to the ground floor above. Opening up to the inner yard and terrace, which also hosts a generous helping of landscape design along its extremity, the layout adopts an L-shaped configuration with floor-to-ceiling glazing along the built forms looking into this space, which generates a quasi-courtyard layout. "This floor of the house is divided into two parts: glass and monolithic concrete. The monolithic upper-floor console is hung above the glass part, and appears to hang in the air," explains the practice. A concrete mass along one side hosts the main living space, in addition to the kitchen, dining, and living areas. Conversely, the lighter glass volume supporting the base of the cantilevered first floor accommodates a wardrobe space, an elevator, and a hall.
Concrete is a dominant element even in the interior design, where the walls, ceilings, and certain sections of the floor harness its muted materiality, alongside a louvred partition in the living area. From the inside, the circular openings puncturing the façade frame views of the surroundings, bringing nature into the home’s spaces as well. The uppermost floor accommodates two expansive bedrooms fitted with attached baths and luxurious walk-in closets, all arranged along a single row within its cuboidal mass. Adding an element of sustainable design to the project, the building's roof has been fitted with an array of solar panels, to help meet some of the home's energy demands.
The architects conclude: “If the question of whether this is a contextual building or not is posed, it could be answered that depending on the surroundings, in terms of perceiving the historical or modern urban context dynamically, this house conforms with many characteristics of Kaunas. Although, there is no doubt that during the process of designing and building this home, a completely modern interpretation of those city signs has been realised.”
Name: Residential House in Kaunas
Location: Baritonų st. 6, Kaunas, Lithuania
Gross Built Area: 564 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Architect: Architectural Bureau G.Natkevicius & Partners
Lead Architects: Adomas Rimselis, Gintautas Natkevicius
Project Managers: K.Česnauskas, M. Jucius, T. Juras
Structural Engineer: S.Milišauskas
Interior Design: E.Riaukaitė, V.Giedra, I.Kindurytė, E.Mamedovaitė
Landscape Design: A.Grabauskienė
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