House near Cologne, Germany

Planned for a work-at-home couple with their own small marketing firm, this house on the edge of a small farming town near Cologne had to respond to their need for a short construction time, maximum spatial flexibility, and full advantage taken of Germany's extensive green building subsidy programs. The clients wanted the image of the house to correspond to the barn and farmhouse-dotted landscape; at the same time, they had always been fascinated by open, urban loft-like spaces.

Our response is a full-timbered structure, which can be prefabricated in the Zimmerman shop, wrapped in a 30 centimeter-thick wood shell open to osmosis. The structural concept allows for quick construction and, more important to day-to-day life, a sense of open space, which can nonetheless be subdivided as needed. Integrated full-height sliding lacquered doors, perforated with plexiglass rods to carry light while guaranteeing privacy, underscore the spatial flexibility and provided the basis for the climatic adaptability of the house as well. Built-ins keep the spatial expression clear while allowing for storage. The timber frame forms an unequal grid of nine sectors, of which the central cross is transparent to the countryside around the house while the closed corners accommodate more intimate spaces.

Full-storey-height exterior sliding doors, like those typical of vernacular barns, protect the large openings along the central cross from heat loss and curious eyes in the evenings. Both floors can be subdivided into three areas using sliding panel doors, into two equally large end sections and a partially double-height middle section containing entrance and circulation areas. On the lower floor, the layout works equally well for work or entertaining, with access to both east and west facing decks. Kitchen appliances are built-in beneath the stair; a long table in a double-height space on axis with the entry is suited to conferences or dining. Upstairs, the north-facing sector of the house is compact, shared between bathroom and bedroom; the loft above this more intimate area can be used for storage or as an extra room.

The large open area overlooking the town core on the opposite side of the house can be used for work or leisure. The house utilizes geothermal heating, common in Germany for residential building; the roof panels, a prefabricated system by Rheinzink, incorporates solar panels; the electricity is sold directly back into the grid, obviating the need for individual storage cells. Cross ventilation is supported by the house's layout and the large bifold doors on its short end. The sliding doors can also be used to partition off the areas of the house not currently in use, to reduce the cost of heating in the winter.

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