Ex-centric eye candy – Austria/Poland

Architecture outside centres bears qualities which often stay hidden simply because those buildings are often outside of the spotlight of architecture magazines and they are not as spectacular as monumental high-rises and huge campuses of technological giants. Commonly, architectural websites are often focused on buildings of huge scale. It is natural to be amazed by the modern, tech-savvy and innovative buildings.

There are, however, other qualities buildings can have. It was quite a surprise this year, that Pritzker Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture, was given to not so widely known architecture trio, RCR Arquitectes. Founded by Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta in 1988 and based in Olot, Catalonia, Spain, this studio explores local traditions, building techniques and materials. And the Pritzker committee has decided, that smaller, local architecture, is often overlooked and more people should know about it.  And the work of this trio is truly exceptional.

And that leads us back to the project of Faculty of Architecture in Liberec. Collection ‘Architecture outside centres’, published around 2014, explores lesser known local architecture.


And it is a true architecture book. Mostly comprised of pictures. Those are truly eye-candies. And I decided, since there are only 500 copies of those books, that I should share some of the interesting buildings there. I choose those examples randomly, so whatever caught my eye, I took a photo and got a link to find out more. The first part is from the trips to Austria and Poland.



Ecker Abu Zahra Schuppen, Luftenberg, Austria (Hertl Architekten, 2010)

Even a small shed, with its subtle earthy tones used on cladding, can persuade us that architecture matters at every scale.

Rohner port house, Fussach, Austria (Baumschlager Eberle Architekten, 2000)

Cantilevered port house, located above the flood level overlooks the area of the port.

The Timmelsjoch Experience, Timmelsjoch, Austria (Werner Tscholl Architects, 2010)

On the highest point of the Brenner Pass, one can find a man-made erratic boulder, overlooking the valley. The museum inside the ‘cave’ pays tribute to the pioneers of the High Alpine Road and their remarkable accomplishment.

Museum Liaunig, Neuhaus, Austria (Querkraft Architekten, 2008)

Art collector Herbert Liaunig decided to move his collection into a new space. After an architecture competition, concrete block, which is mainly underground to save energy, grew on the plot. Only one end, part of the 170 m long block is cantilevered over the road to invite people inside.

Steinhaus, Steindorf, Austria (Architekten DOMENIG & WALLNER ZT, 2008)

Own house of an architect Günther Domenig, which took long twenty years to build, because of the financial problems and complications from the authorities. The architect enjoyed his home only for four years, since he has died in 2012. The house now serves as a center for concerts and festivals. Domenig was a leader of ‘Grazer Schule’, deconstructivist movement in Austria. In his house, concrete, steel and glass clashes together in a symbolic composition. Despite the cacophony, the building creates a harmonious complex on the shore of the lake.

Kielce geological center, Kielce, Poland(Palk architekci, 2009)

Karst area around Kielce was proclaimed a geological reservation. Geological center, which rose from an architectural competition cleverly uses local materials. Stone for facades and interior cladding, and local flora for the green roof. The shape itself is a reminder of material which has been mined from the limestone quarry.

Bolko loft, Katowice, Poland (Przemo Łukasik, 2003)

Claimed to be the first Polish loft. Architect Przemo Łukasik wanted to create an inexpensive home for himself and his family. He used an old part of a lamp factory. He kept the load bearing concrete platform and skelet and added an industrial staircase, which was left behind after another his project. Area below serves as a covered porch, which would certainly appeal to Le Corbusier and his five points of architecture.

Art-Punkt, Opole, Poland (Małgorzata Pizio-Domicz Antoni Domicz , 2010)

Offices for a nearby theater. Repurposed from an old hostel. Interesting plastic veil around the cubic volume, with lights around blinded openings.

Polish-German Library CARITAS, Opole, Poland (M. i A. Domiczpracownia architektury, 2001)

Three very distinct volumes were built on a vacant lot between city blocks. The entrance, glass hall is placed between former brick building, which was restored and newly constructed concrete block. The final collection of three materials is surprisingly coherent and symbolizes the connection between Poland and Germany as is the purpose of the library.

Traffic node, Wrocław, Poland (MAĆKÓW PRACOWNIA PROJEKTOWA, 2011)

For the purpose of 2012 Football championship, new traffic node, combining tram and train station was built. Arrow shaped roof points to the direction of the football stadium. In a strange contrast with modern sharp shape, the trams of the city look rather archaic. One can only hope that in the future, the architecture and public transport will find a common ground.

City hall, Siechnice, Poland (MAĆKÓW PRACOWNIA PROJEKTOWA, 2012)

Example how one man, born in a small town of Siechnice, can shape his own hometown. Architect studied urbanism of his hometown for many years, so it was no surprise that he won a competition, which purpose was to define the city centre and overall urbanistic concept, since the city was clustered as a result of fast expansion during the construction of nearby power plant.

These examples show the importance of the architecture in everyday life. How the small local projects help the communities and can bring people together. And finally, that every architecture matters, as long as it is made with a pure desire to make the world better.




Tusindfryd 7 – Topped out

Another Friday on the building site went pretty well. Attendance was surprisingly high, the weather nice and we also had our favourite structural design teacher with us this time, who provided his thoughtful insight and also marked some of the things that could have been done better. IMG_0848

When we came, the building was already topped out, if we can say it about a home of this size. Actually, the practice of topping out can be traced to the ancient Scandinavia so we can say they invented this ritual. Originally, the tree or a branch with leaves was placed on the topmost beam to appease the tree spirits displaced during construction. This tradition migrated to England and further to America. Nowadays, we can hear about topping out of most of the high-rises, as a public relations statement.

Anyway, let’s start with minor missteps. On the next two images, you can compare, how the neatly drawn roof anchor is in reality put somehow in the centre of foundation block. This causes two things. The roof anchor might be affected by the water, which may find its way into the cavity from time to time and it makes hard to properly insulate the cavity since you have to stuff the mineral wool both behind and in front of the anchor. This does not influence the building in a short term, however, proper placement of the anchor could prolong its lifespan by years.


And since there was not anything particularly interesting, I would like to comment on other construction detail we have seen. On the next image, you can see the wind beam. Its role is to support the masonry. The bricks could be affected by severe winds and cracks might appear between them. Thumb rule is that if the brickwork is supported from three sides, the area should not exceed 10 square meters. If the area is supported on four sides, it can be up to 20 square meters. This beam therefore fully support the brickwork affected by the wind.


Here we can see the radon pipe. Radon is a noble gas that is harmful to people and can rise from the ground to the building. Horsens and its surrounding is an area with a high radon danger. One of the solutions to counter radon danger os to establish pipe below the ground slab, which traps the rising gas and leads it to outside. Another solution might be the use of a radon membrane or the concrete slab of a thickness of minimum 100 mm is also considered radio tight. In reality, I would suggest placing at least one more layer of protection, since there might be microscopic gaps in concrete, which might develop during drying of the concrete.


And our personal favourite. I already wrote about this part here. And we can see that it has not yet been dealt with. But that is no surprise since the showers are still without concrete as well, so we assume that they will do these two together. Or there is a possibility that they had forgotten about it completely and the will just cover it, since this opening is not openable.


On the other hand, here we can see a nice detail of carpentry work. This is a corner of a tool shed, which will be clad in wood. Notice the piece of a ventilation strip which ensures proper drying of the cladding after rain.


The longer we spend on that building site, the more missteps we see. It makes me wonder. If that happens on a building site of this size, what happens on building sites which are hundred times bigger? On the other hand, bigger building sites, have permanent site intendants making sure that all those involved follow the plans. I hope next semester we will get access to some of the bigger building sites so we can uncover more mysteries.





Tusindfryd 7 – What’s up? The roof.

It is time for another check up on our building site. The weather was nice so we once again headed to the building site. And when we got there, we nearly couldn’t recognise the house. The roof trusses were up and the mechanical ventilation system was being installed.

Here is the view on the covered carport. In the back, you can see a shed, which might be used for storing bikes or some garden accessories. The shed is nicely framed and we could not find anything wrong. The same goes with the trusses. Seems like the guys did a good job. In the front, we can see a column supporting the beam which holds the trusses.


On the other hand, below you can see the place of the crime from last visit. Long story short. Minor measurement mistake in the shower stall caused, that the wall on the picture is only partially resting on the concrete. I tried to see how bad it is and I actually could fit my whole hand below the wall. So the wall is kind of levitating. Nothing serious, but it could have been done better. Mistakes happen, but they should not. Notice how they simply cut out the polystyrene, which was there as kind of a ‘void form’ so they can later pour the concrete below the shower, which will be lower than the level of rest of the floor.And misalignment of that ‘void form’ is the cause of the floating wall.


Another thing worth checking is this roof anchor. This piece of metal is embedded into foundation and is tied to the truss so it holds the roof in case of very strong wind.  This one is 40 mm wide, but they can also be wider in case of heavy loads, which might occur on taller buildings or on windy places like beside sea or on open fields. This particular anchor is tied up to the trimmer beam between trusses since as you can see there is an opening on the right so the anchor could not go where the window should be.


Here is a picture authorities probably should not see. There is one thing definitely missing here and that one thing is railing on the scaffolding. I would say, at that height, it is actually not necessary, but the rules are rules. We do not want to see people trying to sue each other. Better safe than sorry.


And finally, the view from inside. Trusses, walkway for inspections and battens prepared for installation of the ceiling.


As a conclusion I must say that at least to me, it appears that the roof so far is quite well done. What do you think about it? Do you have any area where I can look to find some mistakes? Where do mistakes usually happen at roof construction? If you know, let me know.



Four circles of architectural hell

The title was originally “Seven circles of architectural hell” but it was late and I got tired, so there are only four now. I think that four is still much more than we deserve. Another pastime of architects (or is this how we torture ourselves?) is looking for stupidity not so well through design. And the best place to look for them are catalogues of homes. Last time we clashed with lumberjack. Now I have seen some terrible things of different kind. And because I am such a nice person, I am going to pick the worst, so you know what not to do.

I am wondering every day how some things could have even been built. Who had the guts to offer this to the client? Who had the taste to buy these? Was the one who made it proud of its work or was he wondering why he has to do these cruelties? The mistake could have been avoided if just one of these people realised what have they been doing. If only people looked for more than just a low price. If only companies weren´t trying to shovel these monstrosities to their clients’ throats. If only craftsman had more dignity. I hope that one mankind can rise above these. The only thing I can do is point it out and hope that somebody of these three starts to care.

Material harakiri

First of all, these coverings are hideous. It is not good enough when you use stone, and just put it wherever you like. It is fake. The wall is not really stone, we can see that so do not pretend. And it really doesn´t help when you paint the wall with “swamp green”. The house looks like it is either dying or suffering from split personality. This is a no go.


Was this necessary? At the bottom of the page, one can read that “this house is individual wish from a client”. Whoah, the client wished this? And you did not stop him? These windows sure do look all fancy, but only if you zooooooom really close. In overall, the execution is totally odd. Another solution would have been to put the gutter all the way in front of them and block the middle of the view. I am passing a house with that solution every day and really can´t decide which is worse. If you have any good solution for these windows, please let me know.


EDIT: I took a photo of the other ‘solution’ so now you can pick which highway to hell you want to take.

Muhahaha, that entrance is so beautifully outlined by these downpipes. Said no one ever. The brickwork looks nice and it is ruined so badly. It is a good idea to protect the entrance. However, do the gutters have to be in this colour? I can see that the owner is trying to hide them by some plants, which are unfortunately close to decomposing. Good luck with covering that.


And at the very end of the catalogue. This house cost nearly double the price of 150 sq.m. house. And it is only 80 sq.m and all around you have some in-between place. Which is very nice, I love in between spaces. And the idea about the house is interesting. It needs some refining. But still, interesting. But they are trying to sell you this half-baked idea for enormous bulk of money. How do they justify the cost? And they are advertising this as 150 sq.m. Did they actually sold at least one? So many questions and no answers.image4

That was exhausting. My eyes are bleeding now. And I have 15 more pictures in my photo folder. Mostly plans. Should I make another post about crime in architecture?

If I stopped at least one of catalogue houses from being built, than this post had a purpose. Death to catalogue houses. Demand quality. Educate yourself and you loved ones.



Vertzone house – Power of narrative

This is the third post about our second-semester project, if you would like to see more click here.

After the scrutiny of my design, we did last time. We were ready for a presentation of our idea to our colleagues and teachers. And now I am going to present it to you, with an architectural tool called “the narrative”.

I always believed in the power of storytelling as a tool to solve problems. It is nearly guaranteed to see the world differently when you imagine yourself as user of your design. Imagine your client in everyday situations, morning routine or when their friends visit. How are they going to use the spaces you imagined? Does it correspond with their lifestyle? There are many questions we asked ourselves during designing this house and the house reflects them all, the house is the answer.

Imagine. Imagine this is your house.Vertzone house_Outline

You have two children, boy(12) and girl(10). They have their rooms in the basement. They have access directly from their room to the garden. The basement is accessible by ramp, so your son can ride from school on his bike (remember we are in Denmark) and he will drive right next to his room. He parks his bike and he is now in his own room, he is a teenager, he needs its own space. Deal with it, for a few years from now, you will be seen as old-fashioned, boring and who knows what. So now he has its own space and so do you. You have first floor for yourself. Muhahahah. Your daughter rides a bike from school as well. She drops her bike and goes to her room with few friends of her, she will be a teenager soon and the years go by and maybe, your children have their own flats or houses. So you do not need the space anymore, so you just move the washing machine to the ground floor, do a new kitchen where number 8 is and you rent the bottom floor to students or young couple. Or you will make a hobby room out of the room of your son or daughter. It is your decision.

basement with notes

Ground floor with a nice terrace. In the summer, you can invite friends and enjoy evenings with a glass of wine, looking over the lake. In the winter you can gather around the fire stove (number 7) in your living room. You will dine with your family by the window, which also overlooks the lake. ground floor notes

And finally, your own kingdom. Upstairs, you have a bedroom, bathroom and an office. Personal domain for you and your partner.1st floor

And the whole house stands proudly on this plot. Lake to the west, fields on the north. The lake is a protected area. So you know that the view cannot be spoiled.

Site plan

And below, you can see the cross section of the house. Notice the two-storey living room. Your house looks amazing.

cross section

I think we did pretty well for second-semester students. With the power of narrative, we went through the design process together and ended with pretty neat result. We delivered the presentation, the feedback was mostly positive and now, scheme design awaits.

We have our idea, but now we have to find out how to execute it. What is going to support our house? What are the walls made of? Every detail must be analysed and solved. Every connection between materials. In this house, there are many many details. And all of them have to be solved and drafted, so the contractor can see what are we trying to achieve.

There are also things about the building process or the building economy. We have to estimate the price of the house based on the units of materials we are going to need, we need to come with general diagram of the order, how the house will be assembled.

But my personal favourite is construction detailing. Putting all those pieces together, thinking of a solution which will make everyone happy. The god is in the detail.

This house has no overhang. Overhangs are quite practical things, they protect the facade. But imagine this house with an overhang,  it would have looked like mushroom. I do not want overhang, so as one of the details, I have to come up with a solution for that. And that is just one example. But there are four of us in the team. Together, we can do amazing things I hope.

So, I next time about that overhang, wish me luck.




Tusindfryd 7 – Mistakes happen

Oh oh oh. One would have thought that when they have already built hundreds of houses like that one, mistakes like this would not happen. Welcome to the building site. Millimeters on your drawings no longer matters and mistakes apparently do happen quite often. Not that they could kill somebody, but still, does this have to happen?

Our first candidate. Part concrete, part polystyrene. What has happened here? For those of you who can read drawings see below, for those who can read, I will try to explain it.

Below you can see two parts that collided here. Under the doors, there should be concrete nearly to the foundation block and just a small piece of insulation to break the cold bridge a bit. And all around the house, the cavity should be filled with polystyrene from floor slab to foundation block. And apparently, someone screwed up. And according to the measurements, the openings are in the right place, so it must have been concrete workers. When they were pouring the concrete, they missed the measurements by circa 20 cm, so now you have one more cold bridge next to the door.


No door


And, guess what. It is not the only mistake of this type. Below, check the opening on the next wall.

And that also means that we are missing some concrete to support the frame of the door on the left side of the opening. So when they will be pouring concrete for bathrooms, they have to cut the polystyrene out and pour some concrete here.

Let´s move to the walls. My wild guess is that the contractor wanted to see if the workers are doing their job properly so he is spying on them through this crack. But seriously. These lightweight concrete elements are quite fragile. They can hold the roof, and the house stands properly, no doubt in that. But as you can see, they are prone to cracking, when handled without care. This gap has to be filled with glue or mother, which again, causes little thermal bridge.

And last but not least. The raised polystyrene platform is where the shower will be placed, the polystyrene will be later cut out and sloping concrete will be poured. But there should also be a wall, you can see the cut in the polystyrene where the wall should be placed according to the person who made the floor. On the other hand, it makes more sense to place it next to the window and not in it, that is what the plan says at least. So in the end, the polystyrene is probably going to be cut little deeper, and the wall will be placed correctly next to the opening, but it will only partially rest on the concrete, which might compromise its stability.

Do not judge my sketching skills, I put this together on my phone right after the site visit this time. How are they going to fix these issues? Hopefully we will see later.




Tusindfryd 7 – Slab check

The weather was much nicer than last time so most of us were excited about our second visit at the building site.


And even though only a week passed from our last visit, the amount of work that has been completed is huge. The foundation blocks were in place, plumbing system covered, and both layers of polystyrene were in place. Horsens and most of Denmark is built on clay, therefore the excavation was filled with compacted sand and slab is built on that. floor textfloor

Notice the colour of the polystyrene, this one is lambda 31, whereas the normal polystyrene has lambda 37. That means that this grey polystyrene insulates about 20% better than the white one. The colour is because of the graphite, which is added during manufacturing process. And graphite is also the reason of the better insulation properties. And since it is used in this house, which is built by a company that builds hundreds of these every year, we may assume, that it is also more economical solution than standard polystyrene.


Below you can see pipes for electrical cables. And also bitumen felt acting as a waterproofing and also radon barrier.


And below, you can see floor heating installed. Notice how the pipes are clipped onto polystyrene. Now concrete contractor may come again and pour the slab.


And the last picture is the manifold installed.17837499_1261833030532241_1116255694_o

Now the easter holidays are here, and we won´t get onto site for next two weeks. I am already excited about what are we going to see next time, although the house is boring and I hate it.

Next time I would like to analyse the house and point out what could have been done better.

What do you think about the work? Do you think it is done how it should have been? Could it be better?