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Compact Karst House in Vrhovlje, Slovenia by Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

AR House 2015 Commended: Building on the age-old vernacular for houses in an inhospitable region, Dekleva Gregorič explore the relationship between contemporary and traditional architecture in this stone house

The Compact Karst House is in south-west Slovenia, a region where the predominant traditional material is stone. The land is full of it. The climate is harsh – winters are extremely windy, summers extremely hot – and they say Karst people are harsh too, albeit hard-working, witty, with a special sense of humour.

The client, a young family, invited the Ljubljana-based office of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti to design their house in Vrhovlje, a rural village near the Slovenian-Italian border. They had collaborated once before, when Dekleva Gregorič created a showroom for the father in Muggia, Italy.

‘To connect with the surroundings, but keeping the shelter theme, densely packed stone and concrete walls are punctuated by three large windows.’

Sited on a slope, the location affords views of neighbouring forests and the traditional stone village of Monrupino. On the upper slope of the site a wall, part of the architects’ design, increases in height as it winds its way down the hill, where it culminates in steps leading to the entrance of the house.

Karst House Plans

Floor plans - click to expand

Due to the harsh environmental conditions, houses in Karst are traditionally introverted. The archetypal house is really a refuge and, as such, the outside world is not brought into the interior. Inspired by the local building vernacular, the architects explored the relationship between contemporary and traditional architecture in this stone house. Mono-materiality was one of the main themes of the design. To connect with the surroundings, but keeping the shelter theme, densely packed stone and concrete walls are punctuated by three large windows. These reveal the house to be a new insertion, not one of the traditional dwellings in the area, as it may appear at first glance. Similarly, like the local stone cottages, the facade and roof share a common material, but the concrete stepped roof, rising directly from the stone walls of the facade and without overhanging eaves is distinctly contemporary.

The stone, set into the concrete during the casting process, gives the walls the appearance of solid masonry construction. The concrete walls of the cottage are inlaid with irregularly shaped, coloured pieces of stone to create a rugged texture, similar to older local houses that have lost their outer layers over the years. Studio co-founder Aljoša Dekleva explains that the technique was used in the 1970s by his father, a member of an influential architectural group at the time, ‘Kras’. The facade is composed of a 150mm-thick layer, on which the builder first integrates a row of stones, with the flat side of the stone against the framework, and then pours concrete behind the row of stones. When the framework is taken away, after a day or two, the builder removes the excess concrete to reveal the surface of the stones.

Kast House section

Section - click to expand

It was important to create a comfortable interior for a family of four in an extremely limited space. This space is fluid. The archetypical, gabled form of the house is replicated in the interior with two small wooden volumes that divide the floor plan, framing a living room, kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor. Very narrow stairs with staggered wooden box treads are positioned in the centre, functioning as a sculpture, service element and from the other side bookshelves for the mother who, working from home, uses the shelves for her office. The steps lead to a common space between the two bedrooms, which are walled off in timber. This platform is used as a playroom and has sides enclosed by rope latticework, like a playground climbing frame. The stairs are very important in a small building like this, becoming a multi-functional element. All storage space is integrated in the walls, together with the services.

The house has been a big success with the family. When I met the architects at the location, their son said, ‘Why don’t we live in a house like this?’ Compact Karst House is simultaneously contemporary and technologically innovative, but also the archetypal shelter that offers, primarily, a timeless sense of home.

Compact Karst House

Architect: Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Project team: Aljoša Dekleva, Tina Gregorič, Lea Kovič, Vid Zabel

Photographs: Janez Marolt 

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