This may look like a simple house, but it took years to build. It might have been finished years earlier if Jan Proksa hadn’t been looking for the perfect solution for every detail. To find the carpenter alone took him two years.
Proksa is a young Czech architect who lives and works in Vienna. He recently completed his first architectural project. It’s a one-storey house for his mother, located in a small town of some 2200 inhabitants in the Czech Republic, near the Austrian border. From the street there is no sign whatsoever that behind the plastered facade with a wooden gate there lies hidden a superb example of modern architecture: a reinterpretation of a traditional L-shaped town house.
‘Traditional villages in the Southern Moravia region of the Czech Republic are characterized by a distinctive urban planning. The streets are lined with L-shaped row houses neighboring each other on narrow rectangular plots, each with its own long and narrow backyard. In general the front-facing houses are more spacious and feature more elaborate construction techniques.’ Proksa explains how he respected this tradition in his plans, using bricks for the construction in the rear of the property. The building is long and narrow, conforming to the historical shape of the lot. ‘However, I departed from tradition on one point, in terms of structural planning: whereas a typical house would be one elongated, L-shaped structure, I decided to detach the existing front-facing house from the new addition. Both houses thus retain their individual identity.’
The architectural appearance of this building is simple and straightforward: one block made of brick situated in a brick-floored courtyard. The courtyard and the orchard at the back are beautiful places, the house is well situated within the plot, and the interior is well proportioned. Living in this house, however, demands restraint and modesty from the occupant. Proksa was lucky to have a lenient client. His mother was willing to go along with her son’s ideas, although both had to go through a lengthy design and decision-making process.
And now Proksa has finished his first substantial work. It is a work with a persuasive consistency in idea and detailing. For example, he chose exposed bricks for the exterior cladding, because brick is a material that is generally used for stables. These stables are generally positioned in the back of the oblong narrow gardens, but Proksa laid the bricks of the external cladding not only in horizontal lines as would be usual, but also at a 90-degree angle, in vertical lines. To be able to execute his ideas in total precision, Proksa hired the best craftsman he could find, in this case an oven builder who did all the brickwork. It is amazing to see how all joints are run in one line.
Another example is the roof. The block has a flat roof, but neither attic nor plinth are to be seen. ‘The flat roof emphasizes the simple elegance of the new structure. It evokes and celebrates the perpendicularity of the property, as if the facade itself were an additional property-line fence.’ Again the architect spent some time to find the right craftsman, someone who would understand and could craft exactly what he wanted. In the end, he found all his craftsmen in the Czech Republic, and more or less from the surrounding area – only one, who was responsible for retouching the concrete ceilings, came from abroad.
The house has a 55-square-metre flat for a living room plus kitchenette, a bedroom, a bathroom, and an outdoor kitchen. The main entrance leads through the gateway to the courtyard. Throughout the house all walls and doors, even cupboards and wardrobe doors, are cladded with light-coloured lime plaster. A polished concrete floor, an exposed concrete ceiling, and frameless floor-to-ceiling windows compose the interior space. On the inside, as well as on the outside, the choice of material is extremely minimalist and everything is designed with the same uncompromising precision. The project tells a lot about his understanding of modern architecture, and about his ability to design space with a limited number of materials and their genuine expression.