Location: Chemin de Bois, Montricher, Vaud, Switzerland
Architect: Rintala Eggertsson Architects , Rintala Eggertsson Architects
Client: Fondation Jan Michalski
Material: Steel & Wood
Completion date: 2017
Architects: Dagur Eggertsson, Sami Rintala and Vibeke Jenssen
Photographer: Valentin Jeck
Contractor: Losinger Marazzi, Nicholas Asper
Project management: Fondation Jan Michalski, Pierre Lukaszewski
Text provided by the architects:
The In Praise Of Shadows cabin is a part of a writer’s residency program at the Maison de l’Écriture, a literature institute in Montricher, Switzerland, where 16 international architecture practices were invited to submit proposals in a design competition. The proposal by Rintala Eggertsson came out as one of 6 winners the institute selected for realization.
Shaping a space for a writer is a demanding task as it has to stimulate the creative process on one hand and represent a firm framework for the physical needs of the other. These seemingly distant opposites don’t need to outcompete each other, but rather enter into a dialogue where the shift from black to white is a journey in itself.
In our design proposal, we tried to emphasize this connection between the bodily functions of the inhabitant and the mental tasks he or she will take on. We have therefore divided the room program into four categories, each contained in the standard 2,50 x 4,88-meter unit. Moving from the “mundane” at the bottom with the sanitary and storage functions, through the kitchen to the living- and sleeping room, and finally to the writing room on top.
Similar to the cross in the Swiss coat of arms, one of the most archaic of symbols, the suspended hut connects the concepts of divinity and the world through the union of the vertical and the horizontal.
This hierarchy is not only practical when it comes to separating unrelated activities within a dwelling, but also from a technical point of view. Water and heating central can be located on the lowest level in a close connection to both the toilet and the kitchen, next to the entrance and the staircase which can serve as a duct for water pipes and electric cables. Greywater can go the same way out of the house.
Verticality and horizontality united
Although the functions are divided into four levels, they still maintain a large degree of interconnectivity due to the fact that they are set on half-levels to each other. That means that the toilet is only eight steps away from the kitchen with a good visual connection between. The same goes for the kitchen and the living-/sleeping room and the living-/sleeping room in relation to the writing room.
These four half-levels, each with a floor area spanning from 8 to 17 square meters, are compactly planned and yet spacious in their organization. The entire height is only 8,2 meters, which is well within the limits as sketched out the room program.
In the general organization of the suspended hut, it is important to establish a degree of privacy. That will provide the level of concentration needed for the writing activity and a sense of independency from the other residents in the surrounding buildings. The openings of the toilet and the writing room are therefore orientated in opposite directions; towards north-west and south-east, and separated them by one and a half floor. The kitchen and the living room are similarly facing opposite directions and separated by a half-floor. This directionality of the openings allows the residents to relate to the outside space, while spending much of their time on the inside of their little nest, like having a periscope extending your vision beyond all obstacles.
Techniques and materials
The hut is based on a standard structural steel unit which was specially designed to fit within the rhythm of columns, and given as a template in the competition. The walls are composed of three layers of insulation set inside a structural steel frame. This places the building within the limits of low energy building definitions. Heating is, therefore, be reduced to a minimum. Surface materials inside and outside of the cabin are entirely wooden products. This has to do with the characteristics of the hut as an independent structure hanging from the big canopy and the fact that it should be as lightweight as possible in order to reduce the impact on the bearing system. Wood is also a local material with traditions in the area reaching hundreds of years back in time.