The home Philipp von Matt has built in Berlin for an important French painter, in collaboration with Stefano Tiracchia (project leader), sets out to be an obedient building, respecting the rules and tone of the city and the neighborhood; a well-mannered, sober but also ‘disquieting’ building due to its ability to apply the usual elements, colors and proportions with slight detours of attention, subtle manipulations of perception, mixing order and disorder, rules and exceptions. After all, Von Matt is an architect well-versed in his discipline’s interaction with art, sensitive to the discreet charm of the ordinary, skilled in altering habits without disrupting them, changing them only slightly, with gentle pressure and a dash of innocent betrayal.
“The building," Philipp explains, "is shaped in tune with the city’s building regulations, and the irregular form of the plan, due to local restrictions, has become an opportunity to generate an atypical, interesting spaces in which to place the staircase,” where geometric anomaly – the two converging walls – is used to create a foreshortened perspective, an effect of illusion that seems to amplify the real space.
In his most famous essay the great Viennese architect Adolf Loos insisted that ornament is a crime in architecture. Of course no one has ever obeyed this rule, not even Loos himself, creator of the most refined Viennese interiors of the early 20th century. Nevertheless, his verdict continues to have echoes in projects that choose aphasia, abstinence, nudity and honesty of materials, as in the recent works by interesting architects like Valerio Olgiati, Christ & Gantenbein or Raphael Zuber. This attitude has nothing to do with the minimalism inspired by the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who driven by the motto “less is more” reached unmatched heights of elegance and extraordinary beauty.
Loos’s message, instead, forms the basis for a new sobriety: he made very simple exteriors, stripped of all ornament, and opulent, warm interiors of great comfort, full of precious materials. Philipp, with the objective of making a “normal, ordinary” building in the compact volume, with silent, simple and irregular openings and a roof pavilion, references the most beautiful villas of Loos, while the interiors – unlike those of the great master – continue with the same rigor seen on the outside. In the entrance and the staircase, connected directly to the exhibition space and atelier, we can observe a preference for raw material, concrete, with the lines of the formwork still on display.
The staircase is a rugged yet fluid, light sequence, based on the luminous gray of the concrete, smoothed in this case to float in a big well of a vertical compartment that makes it possible to lower the paintings made in the atelier down to ground level. The parapet in brass sheet adds color to the luminous vibration and establishes a dialogue with the concrete, in a contrast of textures formulated with refined brutality. Fortunately this option of the stripped down interior has not been followed as minimalist dogma. It is also commented and challenged by inserts that bring colors, textures and softer, captivating forms, like the large ceramic tiles of the kitchen, recovered from antique wine vessels.
“I am fascinated by the contrast between the ordinary and the exceptional,” Philipp explains, and the taste for jarring juxtapositions between materials and forms, nude and decorated, opaque and luminous, coolness and warmth, becomes the distinctive signature of this ambivalent interior. The exceptional factor is the concrete, shaped and taut, not only on the ramps of the staircase but also in the shaping of the ceilings, while the ordinary lies in the studied randomness of the furnishings, always insufficient to dominate the spaces, a bit ‘lost’ and yielding with respect to the brutality of the concrete and the abundant Nordic light spreading through the large windows. Each level has a different quality, always suspended between understated normality and theatrical flair that underlines a specific architectural feature each time.
The house becomes the protagonist of a simple plot line, but expressed through complexity defined with elegance, as in all the passages between the stairwell and the rooms on the various levels, or the interlock of the mezzanines that push the wave of concrete over the two-story spaces.
On the ground floor the large hall, set aside for socializing and the display of the works of the owner, stands out for the abstract metal framework used to store paintings that can be hidden away, and a large window topped by large transoms, facing onto the private garden. On the first floor, utilized for the living area, the surprise comes in the strong contrast between the rippled, rough wave of the concrete ceiling, the neutral yellow of the plaster wall, the warm tone of the larch wood flooring, and the sharp tympanum of the fireplace. The second floor is more secluded and private, with two double bedrooms, while the third floor is for the studio. The artist works in a large open space, occupied only by tabletops resting on trestles, lit by a deep breach made in the pitched roof that allows light to enter through a skylight.
Project Philipp von Matt - Photos courtesy of ©Atelier PhvM