A new conceptual home in Geneva, Switzerland, gives off a Frankenhouse vibe, with a blocky concrete ground floor and an ornate chalet top. At first, it seems as if the experimental architecture firm Bureau, which is led by Daniel Zamarbide and has offices in Lisbon and Geneva, might have spliced together two completely different structures. But the early 20th-century home has long had this dichotomous character. And the actual challenge for Bureau was to preserve its peculiar form while gutting the interior in order to completely transform it.
That meant literally taking the building apart so as to renovate it. “The upper wooden chalet was entirely lifted, placed on the side of the building and then reinforced, re-structured,” the firm states in the project press release. “Only after this operation it was placed back on the top of the [concrete] basement.”
But, as the firm’s Matilde Mozzi explains, that basement had to be reconstructed. “The process required a careful preparation, with the removal of the existing interior structure of the ground floor and the consequent reinforcement of the structure,” she explains. “Then, the top part was lifted and moved to allow the demolition of the existing basement and the reconstruction of the new concrete basement.” These rebuilt concrete walls now feature circular windows – oddly reminiscent of port holes – that wink at the aesthetic dissonance of the two building layers.
This entire endeavour – a “carte blanche design” that forms just a fragment of a larger project that Bureau recently developed in the garden of a private mansion – was all in service of reconfiguring the inside.
To achieve this entirely new interior, the firm looked to the character of Mr. Barrett in the film “The Servant” for inspiration. In the Harold Pinter–penned drama, “the interior spaces are constantly utilized as stages for relational dynamics. Mirrors and multiple points of view are shown in the movie; the apartment plays a very active role in the construction of the drama.”
Dubbed Mr Barrett’s House, Bureau’s opus features double-height spaces with views from room to room and across levels. Birch plywood, applied to almost every vertical surface, forms a neutral backdrop for the actions of everyday life to take on major symbolism. Inside, the light birch finish lends the space an aesthetic unity at odds with the busy facade. But the dramatic effect is oddly pleasant. In this 70-square-metre house – so weird on the outside and so peaceful inside – the contrast is what makes it successful.
An already-idiosyncratic building is transformed on the inside by the experimental architecture firm Bureau.