SCHELLENBERG (LI) - Ulrike Mayer and Urs Hüssy made a 200-year-old house and barn look brand new.
Schellenberg, in Liechtenstein's north, suffered the same fate as many other areas once characterized by small farms. Orchards became construction sites; commuters' homes replaced farmhouses and farmsteads. The 200-year-old Brendle house has its owners to thank for its rather different experience. After the death of the last farmer in the Brendle family, which had owned the house since its construction in 1815, it stood empty for over ten years. The family eventually sold the house to the municipality in 2002 in order to preserve it for posterity as an example of agricultural heritage. The municipality joined forces with the historic monuments commission and invited four architectural practices to submit proposals for converting the house and barn. The winners were the young Triesen-based architects Ulrike Mayer and Urs Hüssy, for whom the Brendle House was their first built work. They envisaged house and barn as two completely separate residential units, in which modernism and tradition shake hands. According to the jury, their design showed 'in an impressive and subtle manner, how a historical house can be rehabilitated with heritage preservation considerations in mind, further developed and preserved for residential purposes in a state-of-the-art intervention.'
Admittedly, the conditions for doing so were favourable. The ensemble, which had never been extensively renovated or converted, is set against a backdrop of gently rolling hills, fruit trees and the edge of a forest. Even more importantly, the client – the Schellenberg municipality – appreciated what it had got with this heritage building and was not in it for the profit. The house with its attached barn is in the typical local style. It is a squared-timber log house (Kantholzstrickbau) built on top of a rubble masonry cellar. The house has a 'Rhine Valley floor plan' consisting of sitting room, adjacent room, kitchen and corridor. The barn is a board-clad load-bearing framework structure with a solidly built stable inserted into it. It was a prime requirement of the brief that these original building typologies should not be obscured, so the architects tacked all the missing rooms onto the exterior, replacing two additions dating from 1940: an entrance porch at the front of the house and a large garage behind the barn.
The house's new annex contains a veranda and two bathrooms, one on top of the other. A kitchen was inserted, the stairway replaced and the ceiling of the upper storey raised and replaced by a 12-cm-thick solid timber ceiling. The architects opened the anteroom of the two upstairs bedrooms to the attic, thus creating a pleasant counterweight to the very low rooms. To leave the load-bearing timber facade exposed, they installed the new thermal insulation on the inside: in the main rooms behind the plain wainscoting of 1940, in the other rooms behind new panelling.
In the barn, the principle is reversed: the important fabric here is not the shell but the framework. The massive beams support the roof and determine the space of the open hall. The architects left both load-bearing structure and space almost unchanged. Massive wooden stairs lead up to the former stable's roof, now a spacious gallery. A new skin of fir wood boards lined with insulation encloses the building, obviously new, not only because of the pale colour but also because of the narrow slits sawn between the wooden planks – a traditional method for letting light into barns but here in a new garb. On the street side, the old facade with its gate and door was preserved and a glass wall behind the entrance area ensures thermal separation. In the new annex, the kitchen is like a glazed cockpit contrasting with the dim hall and featuring a panoramic window overlooking the orchard. On either side, it can be opened up as high as the room to serve as a loggia. The annex, according to the architects, is a kind of generator for the hall, a machine that provides everything the hall lacks. Besides light, a view and a rear exit, this includes two bathrooms and three rooms, one of which can be opened to the corridor and hall by means of a folding wall.
The architects were not interested in hard contrasts between old and new in their conversion. In this they are in line with many other young graduates of the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Their 'soft concept', as they call it, aspires to allow different time periods to coexist. This includes the pragmatic replacement of no longer serviceable parts of the old house, which can be deduced from the rear elevation.
July | 2007 | Liechtenstein | Axel Simon