Günter Pichler Architecture

Mexico, Passivhouse in a Divingsuit . Vienna

Günter Pichler Architecture . + architizer

The names of the garden hous­ing developments around the Alte Donau (Old Danube) in Vi­enna indicate a longing for the south: there are complexes with names such as New-Florida, New-Brazil and Mexico, indeed even a northerly, cold Franz-Jo­sefs-Land.

Architect Günter Pichler has built a small house for his wife and himself to pas­sive house standards in Mexico, with an industrial bakery build­ing at its back.

The wall as a heat collector
The corner site immedi­ately catches your eye, not so much on account of the house, which with its black facade much resembles the many dark wooden facades of the older allotment garden houses in the surroundings, but because of the glowing rusty orange steel fence around the 500 square metre site which indicates that there is something special here. The house is built as simply as possible, but with great architectural refinement which allowed Pichler to extract an unbelievably high quality of life from building costs of around 1600 euro per square metre. On account of the building regulations the building is extremely long and narrow: 16,35 by 4.20 metres, not exactly the ideal shape for a passive house, which generally speaking should be as compact as possible. But despite the extremely elongat­ed form and the large areas of glazing it proved possible to remain under the heating energy requirements of l5 kilowatt hours per square metre per year. The long building zones the site into a more private area facing towards the path that ex­tends the living room and which is almost continued into the interior trough the large areas of glazing, and a larger area of garden that is more closely linked to the neighbour­ing sites. The permitted eaves height of 5.50 metres is also the building height. The facade is 27cm thick, less than the usual thickness for a passive house: inside 9cm of untreat­ed cross-laminated wood; 18 cm of rock-wool fixed with an­chors to the load-bearing wood panels; black synthetic rubber sealing foil, which is also fixed to the wood with anchors, was stretched over the insulation. More is not necessary, and at the same time the construction of the wall resembles that of a heat collector. The large, almost full height, sliding, tri­ple-glazed windows are strategically positioned to establish a connection with the garden and visual axes.

Luxury of modesty
Through the relatively small con­tinuous building volume and the large openings overheating in summer is not a problem, even though the glazed ar­eas are enormous. There is no sun shade system, apart from a tree in the south and space defining L shaped edge beam in the west, in front of the bedroom. Externally the dominant elements are the black foil, which is slowly acquiring a pat­ina, and the areas of glass; the interior consists of untreated wood surfaces (the ceilings are also of laminated timber) as well as the garden which enters the building through the are­as of glazing. The wood works as a humidity regulator, caus­ing shrinking cracks and bulging, which, although perhaps not acceptable to every client, contribute to the pure appear­ance of the interior that is created by the materials. Whereas other allotment garden house owners attempt to compen­sate for the tightness of the circulation routes by using as small building elements as possible, here huge wooden pan­els were hoisted into the garden by crane, the direction of the boards used to produce these panels makes the structural system legible: loadbearing elements, downstand and upstand beams. The ground floor, which his ceramic flooring, con­tains the living room, kitchen with dining area and larder and the bathroom; all the rooms face outwards, towards the gar­den. A wooden staircase leads up to the first floor where there is bedroom and a study, connected with the ground floor by a slit-like void. An underground building services room hous­es the ventilation plant as well as a ground water heat pump, which, through a collector in the ground level floor, heats in winter and cools in summer.

The "house in a wet suit" is as simple as a small garden dwelling house should be, but it uses this simplicity for a spatial luxury of modesty, not maxi­mization of area or space.

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