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Die Besorger Offices by Hertl Architekten, Steyr, Austria

Stealth bomber architecture comes to small town Austria in the form of a new office and apartment for Die Besorger, a design agency based in Steyr, Austria. Photography by Paul Ott

Local practice Hertl Architekten wraps an angular assemblage of low-rise volumes in a homogenous skin of studded black rubber, dissolving boundaries between roof and walls to fashion an enigmatic, bunker-like addition to an ordinary residential neighbourhood.

The site lies on the bucolic edge of the Enns River, which winds languidly through the centre of Steyr. On its private western side, the building is gashed with glazing to take advantage of views through an old orchard down to the sedate sweep of the river. On the more public street facades, the black epidermis gives little away, pulled tightly around the crisply chiselled forms. Light percolates through a scattering of translucent domes of different sizes; the architects liken them to water droplets skidding over the impervious rubber surface.

Local planning regulations restricted the building volume to one-and-a-half storeys, so the roof acts as a giant loft containing the design studio, with the apartment at ground level. The geometry of the roof gently twists and contorts in response to the height constraints, enclosing a dynamic, open-plan space softly illuminated by globular rooflights. Studded with fixing points like some kind of fetish upholstery, the topographic planes of black rubber add a contemporary frisson to the more conventional townscape of pitched roofs.

From the corner entrance on the ground floor, a narrow, ravine-like stair leads up to the design office. This moment of temporary compression climaxes in a sudden release as you arrive at the luminous loft of the studio. White walls and polished concrete floors reflect the light and underscore the pervasive aesthetic of elegant austerity.

Although the studio is essentially a single space, it is loosely structured by an enclosed box, which functions as a meeting room and a discussion area. The interior and exterior of the box are painted in a virulent lime green, which establishes a powerful visual focus and a physical anchoring point in the open-plan studio. ‘Our architecture is atmospheric, fluctuating, fluent, logical and continuous,’ says founding partner Gernot Hertl. ‘We are concerned not merely with function, but with the mood and atmosphere of space.’

Occupied by one of the design agency’s directors, the ground-level apartment is planned around a single living, dining and kitchen space. This connects with a large garden that slopes down to the riverside edge. Bedrooms are arranged along the north wall, with a technical room and storage compacted along the blind, south-facing street side. Altogether, the result is a deft and modern exercise in the sometimes tricky coupling of the live/work space. But the building also exhibits an undemonstrative lyricism in its approach to materials, response to context and handling of light.

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