AR House 2014 Highly Commended: Combining the townhouse and the apartment block in one structure, 2b Architectes’ Urban Villa compresses complex spatial arrangements into a fragmentary whole
As urban typologies go, the townhouse and the apartment block may seem to be irreconcilable opposites − offering spacious and expensive individualism on the one hand, versus a more economical communality on the other − yet the Swiss practice 2b Architectes has contrived to unite the two in a single structure in Lausanne.
The concrete envelope of the block avoids the drab uniformity of some postwar mass housing, despite employing the same material, by virtue of its irregular plan and fenestration, and its different surface treatments: shuttered, polished or granular. (This is taken to extremes in the sunken entrance to the garage, which has shiny metal doors − likewise, the lightwell-courtyard employs highly reflective cladding.)
These devices are, unusually, not mere arbitrary formalism, but means to express the complex spatial strategies being played out on the interior: the four units are not lined up like chunks of meat on a skewer, but exploded and carefully draped around each other and the shared internal courtyard in a nest of ascending spirals.
As a consequence each home comprises a uniquely arranged sequence of rooms, with a variety of aspects, carefully slotted into the concrete skin of the block. These kinds of complex spatial interpenetrations are usually only achieved over lengthy periods of time during which townhouses are extended and broken up into apartments by a succession of lump-hammer wielding occupants, but here 2b Architectes have compressed both time and space into one fragmentary whole. The result is that rarest of things, an organic creation ex nihilo.
Architect: 2B Architectes
Photographs: Roger Frei and Thomas Jantscher