Earlier last week, architects Bjorn Martenson, Sonja Nagel and Jan Theissen of Amunt practice have been announced the winners of the first prize in this year’s edition of AR House Awards for their passively heatable and partly pre-fabricated single family home project, ‘Just K, Zero Energy House‘.
Organised by Architectural Review and held at the Laufen Forum, the AR House Awards were awarded for the second time. Here, the winning trio explains why they decided to build the house as a solid wood construction, what is the difference between designing a public building or a private house and what does the award mean to them.
With your project “Just K” you came first in the renowned AR House Awards 2011. What does this award mean to you?
Björn Martenson: We are particularly pleased that our project has met with a very positive response beyond the boundaries of German-speaking countries.
Could you please explain briefly what is so special about “Just K”?
Björn Martenson: The house finds an answer to the ostensibly conflicting requirements of the construction project: the creation on a small plot of land of passively heated rooms that can be appropriated in a variety of ways for a family of six with a limited budget.
You used mainly wood as your building material. Why?
Jan Theissen: Based on considerations of sustainability, the building physics requirements of passive houses, and the opportunities to greatly shorten the construction phase by using prefabricated materials, we decided to build the house as a solid wood construction. As a renewable resource wood also has a very favourable energy balance, which we considered appropriate in view of an overall concept of sustainability.
We also thought it a charming idea to be able to leave the cross-laminated timber elements of the shell visible. Here we pursued the concept of a ‘superior-finish shell’ and only bleached and soaped the industrial timber surfaces in order to obtain the light character of the wood that is characteristic of the rooms intended for communal use by the family.
Sustainability does not, however, apply only to the choice of building material. What role do functional rooms such as the bathroom and kitchen play in your concept?
Sonja Nagel: Taking as an example the kitchen – which is an integral part of the main living area – you can see how we have optimised the layout of Just K with a particularly effective design in terms of utilisation of space, functionality and flexibility. We wanted to achieve the maximum in spatial qualities with minimal use of materials.
In the main living space the different functional areas: sunken courtyard, entrance, cloakroom, kitchen, eating area, balcony, living area, window seating area, mini-office and staircase – overlap imaginatively, creating a living environment that gives the inhabitants a feeling of spaciousness, providing different atmospheres and potential uses of the space despite the minimised livingspace of 138 m2 for 6 people. The bathrooms are attached to this living environment as separate units.
Do you also advise on the bathroom fittings? If so, according to what criteria? What relationship must there be between design, function and materials?
Sonja Nagel: The bathrooms are developed by us in terms of the overall concept of the house. In the case of JustK there are, for example, visible wooden surfaces in the bathrooms too. As these are exposed to water they are protected by a coloured PU coating. The builder’s requirements and budget provide the basis for the fittings and these are agreed with him according to the atmosphere of the building and its functionality.
The AR House Awards highlight the trend-setting function of private house architecture. What difference does it make to you as an architect whether you are dealing with a public building or a private house?
Jan Theissen: The private house is in our view subject to greater intensity of use and need for durability. In the course of planning there are specific wishes of the builder to be met, meaning that we are able to develop a more individual space and give more attention to precise details. In the case of a public building we have rather to start from more general ideas. We are convinced that the sensible and economical use of resources in the building process itself will play a big role in future in both the private and the public sector.