AR House Shortlist: A restoration and reworking of a traditional Zagorje hiža both appreciates the region’s heritage and brings subtle contemporary flourishes
Kumrovec, an idyllic village nestled in the Sutla River Valley close to the Croatian-Slovenian border, is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Jospi Bro Tito, the father of Communist Yugoslavia. During Tito’s lifetime the simple house in which he was born became a museum, and now an entire village – Staro Selo – stands as an open-air museum, a remarkable preservation of some 40 19th and 20th-century houses that began around 1977. Filled with baker’s tools, wine presses, toys and mannequins, one can briefly step back in time surrounded by this evocation of tradition. While Hiža translates as ‘house’ in Croatia’s Kajkavian dialect, it is more often used to describe these sorts of houses in the Zagorje region, with all their rural charm.
Proarh’s Hiža House, situated on the green hills close to Kumrovec, began its life in far worse condition. Decades old, the estate benefited from stunning views out over the Zagorje region but was in desperate need of structural restoration. Noting Kumrovec’s dedication to heritage, Proarh have fulfilled this need and utilised local materials and workmanship, but not without injecting a carefully considered dose of the contemporary.
The most dramatic of these new elements is a glass box, seemingly stopped part way sliding out from underneath the gable and from afar easily mistaken for the covered porch of the original structure. Inside this form is the living space, which by way of sliding door can lead directly out onto a wooden terrace that hovers over the hillside. In plan it becomes evident just how much space this repurposing of the porch area provides, which, when combined with the walkway toward the entrance, becomes an open horizontal axis that crosses the intimate, traditional hearth space, cocooned in thatch that extends from the roof and down the elevations.
If this all seems a little too exposed, the entire porch space can be closed off and the traditional Hiza’s warm materiality enjoyed as it would have been decades ago. Above the living and dining spaces sit the bedrooms, looking out over trees to the east and west at either end. Here, as in the kitchen and bathrooms, fittings are sparse and attach directly to the exposed wooden structure.
The resulting structure is one that both evokes the Zagorje region’s heritage and embraces the extent to which its nature has changed over time. While Kumrovec’s Staro Selo devotedly maintains its historical aesthetic, Proarh’s Hiža House looks backwards, but with one foot firmly forward.