HUBSCHMITZ Architekten's holiday home in Föhr takes cues from Frisian farmhouses

In conversation with STIR, architect Joenne Hub provides an insight into House on a North Sea Island, designed for a couple attached to the traditional north Frisian culture.

by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Nov 23, 2020

Designed by Germany-based HUBSCHMITZ Architekten, House on a North Sea Island in Wyk auf Föhr, Germany, is a recently completed contemporary holiday home with a thatched roof. Led by principal architect Joenne Hub, the architecture of the residence blends local traditional Frisian culture with modern elements, bringing aspects of transparency and regional notions both into the exteriors as well as the interiors.

Portrait of Joenne Hub | House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
Joenne Hub, principal architect, HUBSCHMITZ ArchitektenImage: Courtesy of Hubschmitz Architekten

STIR speaks with Hub, who shares insights that reflect the ideologies of the firm, the design process, and the eventual creation of the holiday villa.

Meghna Mehta (MM): How did the project begin? What was the initial discussion with the client?

Joenne Hub (JH): The married couple was almost like a dream client. They wanted a house that expressed their attachment to the region and traditional north Frisian culture, which was bold and self-confident, and rooted in the present. The house needed to fulfil the highest standards of exclusivity and of architectural and tactile quality, without appearing brash or overbearing.

MM: Please tell us about the location and the site.

JH: Its position was directly on the coast with a large underground car park (six spaces, with a waterproof seal for storm tides). However, unobtrusive technical installations meant that the house had to meet the highest construction standards. The clients deserve great respect for insisting on the utmost architectural quality. When it came to the architects’ suggestions for materials, appropriate proportions, and artistic expression, the clients not only followed willingly but also challenged and supported us wherever they could.

The south view of the house| House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
The south view of the house Image: Courtesy of Veit Landwehr

MM: How was the architecture conceptualised?

JH: The primary architectural design is based on the local architectural roots, the typical Frisian farmhouses. The design of the new holiday house faced the challenge of balancing former traditions and contemporary functional requirements.

MM: In terms of specific concepts, what ideas were adapted?

JH: I used the notion of ‘transparency’ as the guiding tool for the architectural design. Transparency, according to Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, does not mean clarity as in glass but transparency as describing the grade of spatial order. Here transparency becomes a vehicle to create design-philosophic interpretations of furniture history, and helps to make holistic design concepts manifest.

  • Ground floor plan | House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
    Ground floor plan Image: Courtesy of Hubschmitz Arkitekten
  • Ceiling plans for the house| House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
    Ceiling plans for the house Image: Courtesy of Hubschmitz Arkitekten

The outside elevations of the house on Föhr talk about the conceptual organisation inside. On one hand by following geometrical axes and lines, on the other by giving every elevation a special arrangement of windows and enclosed elements, guiding the viewer's eyes to the wide-open sea-orientated southern fronts. The house enhances the concept of transparency to the self-similarity of the form; from big to small, from the outer elevation to the interior design, and from the floor plan to the details – as shown by the stone slabs in the lobby and dining room, for example.

The Section plan of House on a North Sea Island| House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
The Section plan of House on a North Sea Island Image: Courtesy of Hubschmitz Arkitekten

Easily understood by anybody, even though unaware of local architecture, is the possibility to see where the subsidiary rooms are located. Similar to the stables or farmhands-rooms of old times, they have small windows. The exterior design is guided by the flow and organisation of the rooms and circulation areas inside. The design of the building is informed by the interior layout and emulates a conceptual interference by overlaying it with the architectural idea.

MM: Can you further explain how you derived connect between the inside and the outside?

JH: Sure, for example, the entrance-corpus has a deeply designed door jamb and generates a powerful vector into the building, giving a testimonial about the depth of the route through the house towards the dining hall. This displays the measurements of Uthland-Frisian halls, which follow the same direction internally. The three asymmetrical windows positioned to the left, perceived with the same glance as those on the north-east wing, where the office and library are located, illustrate that here the circulation is different, separating the business partners of our client from the family life of the interior.

The entrance to the house | House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
The entrance to the house Image: Courtesy of Veit Landwehr

The two chimneys are integrated into monumental pylons. They bring the solid part of the exterior, with its subsidiary rooms, the kitchen, and the office, to an end. At this part of the outer wall, the bronze-tin finishing between wall and eave under the thatched roof is interrupted – a detail to underline the vertical function of the chimney-pylons. They enclose the seaside glazed parts of the building, where the non-working rooms are - the dining-hall, the lobby, and the living room – acting as a shelter for them.

Internal staircase | House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
Internal staircase Image: Courtesy of Veit Landwehr

MM: How did you further bring the interaction between local traditions and contemporary concepts?

JH: One of our client's wishes was to use traditionally handcrafted and painted Dutch tiles, like those fitted in Frisian kitchens centuries ago. We reinterpreted this idea and designed the tile panels with a mixture of traditionally painted and unpainted Dutch tiles. The number of painted tiles decreases as they rise. This matrix-like pattern allows for multiple interpretations, such as steam rising from the pots, or the fact that these tiles have been used in farmhouses in former centuries, and last but not least, the relativity of time.

The influence of Frisian houses, enriched by the architecture of early British thatched-roof buildings and the owner's wishes, led me to create a kind of ‘fusion’ architecture. As a last example, the entrance cube re-interprets the former Frisian gables, which were traditionally there to protect people from falling burning reeds in case of fire. From small to big, from the brick to the whole cubature, the house does not imitate the former farmhouses, but it references them.

The common areas filtered with light | House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
The common areas filtered with light Image: Courtesy of Veit Landwehr

MM: Any peculiar quality in the materials used?

JH: The Danish Kolumba bricks are another example where we try to demonstrate the notion of multi-layer-transparency. They are more than twice as long as the historical bricks.

The dining area of House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
The dining area of House on a North Sea Island Image: Courtesy of Veit Landwehr

MM: In terms of the project, anything you feel proud of? And why?

JH: I am particularly proud of the fact that we were able to realise the house not only in a sensitive, exemplary architecture, but also that we were able to meet the clients’ needs without betraying our convictions or simply pandering to their every whim with finesse and attention to detail.

The office library on the ground floor | House on a North Sea Island | Hubschmitz Arkitekten | STIRworld
The office library on the ground floor Image: Courtesy of Veit Landwehr

MM: Were there any 'fun moments' during the project development that you would like to share?

JH: There have been a few funny moments during the development of the project:

- When I first presented the concept design to the client, he noticed that all the walls were at different angles, and jokingly asked whether I designed it while I was drunk. In any case, he liked the design, and so did his wife.

- After the project had been running for two years, the owner asked at a meeting whether she really needed such a big house and so many cupboards. About 100m built-in cupboards have been installed. However, after completion we were told that the storage would not be enough.

- During the discussion of whether a 90cm wide oven was really necessary, the client said that he was definitely for it. That way he would have a good hiding place when she (his wife) was angry at him. Since in the basement workshop she would certainly be the first to show up with a hammer in her hand.

Project Details

Name: House on a North Sea Island
Location: Wyk auf Föhr, Germany
Completed: August 2020
Architecture: HUBSCHMITZ Architekten
Principal architect: Joenne Hub-Strobl
Team: Silvia Filippelli (Interiors), Michael Frey, Nicolai Koretsky
Construction Management: GKKK Architekten (Architecture), Deutsche Werkstätte Hellerau (Interiors)
Lighting Design: Hamburg Design
Windows, Skylight: Fittkau Metallbau, Berlin

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