It’s tempting for successful architects to go global but these three practices are nicely rooted and widely reflective.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for optimising liveability in the design of a home. With climate, client, budget, codes and countless other factors at play in the commission of a dream space, the best job is often done by the architect who lives and breathes the environment in which they work. With this in mind we’ve scoured the globe and found the designers and developers who are doing it best in their home territories, from the Thai jungle to the riverside streets of Munich.
For Spacetime’s founder Kanika R’kul, nature is an integral factor in her firm’s architecture, no matter the site’s location. The US-trained Thai architect returned to her homeland in 2004 and has since been refining a design philosophy tailored to this tropical landscape, where even cities can be abundant in flora. “In Bangkok we have these strange zoning laws where empty plots end up mixed in with dense commercial areas,” she says. “This is where we create our hideaways in the city – our clients come to us for urban houses that feel like they’re out of town.”
Spacetime has become renowned for these hideaways, starting with Kanika’s own home in Bangkok’s leafy Ekkamai. With ambitions to minimise the need for air-conditioning in the searing Bangkok heat, she referenced the high, sloping roofs of classic Thai homes in her design, forming generous shaded outdoor spaces. She also followed a traditional floorplan that shunned corridors to allow every room to feature wide windows or patio doors, while a large courtyard enjoys the winter breeze that flows southwest from China. Today, surrounded by high foliage, the house remains secluded and cool as the urban jungle grows around it.
However, Spacetime has carved out another niche in the real jungle. The company has grown in tandem with Thailand’s wealth and today, when owning a tropical country retreat has become more realistic for everyday Bangkokians, Kanika’s designs attract a wide range of clients. The handsome contructions are typically elevated above ground on stilts and built with light materials such as timber and tin, a tribute to the regional vernacular. The traditional-looking exterior gives way to a generously proportioned interior, with larger rooms than in older houses. Where once chickens would have been kept, the space beneath the house is today enlarged for a couple of cars (livestock optional).
While Spacetime’s homes remain simple and respectful to the past, they don’t forego Thailand’s other great tradition: style. “I never trade practicality for beauty,” says Kanika. “For me, being practical is really important but having beautiful things and well made things is part of being practical.”
Khao Loy House, Pakchong
Kanika’s own country retreat is one of Spacetime’s most striking, cost-effective projects. It features light, durable materials that help the house cool down in the evenings, while cantilever roofs provide outdoor shade during the day.
High ceilings, teak blinds and a lush garden are the high notes at this site where indoors and outdoors blend seamlessly.
Timber beams sourced from near the Laos border help support this two-storey home, which features wide, shaded balconies and exposed service elements.
This is a firm that takes a considerate approach to maximising every millimetre of space in its designs. Despite its founders – partners in life and business – earning generous commissions in Spain these days, lessons learned earlier in their careers from tightly budgeted social-housing projects have defined their philosophy.
“If you make the right investments you can be quite ingenious in creating second uses and meanings in constructions,” says Mónica Rivera, who adds that adjacencies and entrances orchestrated perfectly on an architectural plan can open up new possibilities. This was illustrated in the firm’s 2008 social-housing commission in the city of Gavà. On that project, the pair saved the developer long- term expense by optimising ventilation with an extra stairwell and rotating the building on the proposed site. While initially costly, over time the new plan has reduced the need for air-conditioning and created savings for the developer. Residents are thankful for breezy apartments, as opposed to the stuffy, artificially cooled homes in which their neighbours reside. Other touches, such as shunning metal blinds and adding cheaper but more attractive timber window coverings, make the living experience here more pleasurable. “The residents have to replace them more often but it also makes them feel like they have ownership of their section of the block,” says Rivera.
She and Emiliano López work on grander projects these days but they and their small Barcelona-based team still relish tackling creative challenges. Rivera points to the recently finished Yoga House, a home-cum-fitness studio built largely from timber for a young family.
“We have created a plan of two layers, where visitors to the yoga studio can come in but bypass the main rooms, while the family can cross and engage with these spaces in a natural way,” says Rivera. The central focal point is a spacious spiral staircase, part of a striking structure that creates a physical separation between business and home. It’s openness establishes a void that allows for hot air to rise naturally from the lower floors on warm summer nights, creating a natural cooling system. The house is also contoured around the patio in a manner that highlights the building’s most important space: the dining area.
“Instead of a single large outdoor area for meals, two were formed: one always in the shade for hot summer days and the other always in direct sunlight for the cooler seasons,” says Rivera.
Despite its rigorous approach to problem-solving, the firm’s willingness to involve clients – typically families – in the building-design process adds a personal element to each of its projects. “We’ve learned that there is no formula for domestic living; it is about listening to how others want to live and want their houses to work,” says Rivera. She adds that, while the client’s architectural ideas aren’t always refined, working a bit harder to realise them rather than making a design compromise is the best solution.
Yoga House, Barcelona
One couple challenged López and Rivera with a request for a private home that could also house their yoga business. The solution creates privacy in the family areas, with patios carved into discreet corners.
Two cork houses, Palafrugell
A twin set of homes for two generations of a family. Cork provides an exterior that blends with wooded surroundings.
Social housing, Gavà
One of the projects that helped shape the firm’s philosophy. The cosy units have balconies and timber blinds.
“Property value is established through architecture and location,” says Stefan F Höglmaier, founder of Munich-based developer Euroboden, whose forte is intimate, multi-residential projects. He has always had a knack for design. “Even as a child, when my mother would take me on long walks along the Isar I would point out the beautiful façades to her,” he says.
Now he has had the chance to add his own façade to the historic Bavarian riverside. Höglmaier’s residential apartment complex located at Erhardtstrasse 10 blends harmoniously with its 19th-century heritage-listed neighbours, while meeting the high level of comfort expected of a 21st-century home.
“The challenge is to integrate historic details with materials and qualities that wouldn’t have been attainable 100 years ago, such as expansive glass windows,” says Höglmaier, who teamed up with Berlin-based architect Thomas Kröger for this project and expects the first tenants by 2019.
Höglmaier’s perceptive approach and network of global architects have won his firm’s developments a number of prizes, including the Fiabci Prix d‘Excellence for its collaboration with Raumstation Architekten in transforming a listed Second World War air-raid shelter into a high-rise apartment building.
Höglmaier’s next star project, in collaboration with the London-based David Chipperfield Architects, is Kolbergerstrasse 5 in Herzogpark, which will give Munich another recognisable new façade. “I don’t care about leaving a legacy behind but the thought that this building will bring joy to people for centuries to come: that’s motivating,” he says. “Of course, it’s only a small building block in the grand scheme but it’s the sum of these building blocks that ultimately make up a city.”
Erhardtstrasse 10, Munich
An apartment house with river views designed to be in harmony with its heritage-listed neighbours. It offers leafy courtyards and 24 apartments across four buildings.
Ungererstrasse 158, Munich
Built as an air-raid shelter in 1942, the listed tower has been repurposed as an apartment house. You’d never guess that this light-filled high-rise was once a gloomy wartime bunker.