With Flying Colors pix
Graduate architecture students at the Universität der Künste Berlin designed and built an A+ weekend retreat
Mairi Beautyman -- Interior Design, 6/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Just 10 minutes by ferry from central Berlin, Valentinswerder feels miles away from urban life. The island is in the middle of the Tegeler See, one of the largest lakes in the western half of the city, and young cosmopolitan families take refuge there on the weekend. The natural landscape is unspoiled: Cars aren't permitted. And the community spirit is relaxed: One often find tribes of muddy children and dogs gleefully dashing about while neighbors sip cold pilsners.
When a fire destroyed part of a two-family compound on the island, Staab Architekten project architect Per Pedersen came to the rescue. A part-time resident of Valentinswerder, he's also an associate architecture professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin, and he saw the disaster as an educational opportunity. If the owners of the property supplied the materials, nine of his students, ages 22 to 24, would design and build two replacement structures, free of charge—with Pedersen's supervision. The catch? Once the owners approved the plan, Pedersen's team would have complete control. "The freedom to follow each idea from beginning to end is the freedom to learn," he says.
The owners are both families with similar taste. They unanimously selected a proposal that Pedersen calls a "minimum of living—doors to get in and windows for light and air."
Pedersen named this innovative student assignment Projekt 1:1, reflecting the design-build relationship. Over a period of eight months, his team constructed two sleeping pavilions, a 180-square-foot single-story structure followed by a 150-square-foot two-story one. They're connected literally by a 100-foot-long raised walkway and thematically by a common material, unfinished larch, a densely grained wood that weathers to a silver gray and is often used in shipbuilding. To vary and soften the look, the larch planks run in different directions—horizontally or vertically—on different elevations of the two pavilions. (Painted pine clads the property's pair of existing single-story buildings. One of them houses a kitchen and living area, the other a bathroom and tool storage.)
Bright color distinguishes the new pavilions' interiors from each other. In the one-story structure, vivid acqua-lacquered flooring stretches toward the shore of the lake. In the taller structure, walls painted a sunny lime-yellow reach upward, toward the sky. Aside from the colors, though, the two pavilions share simple lines and an attention to symmetry. "They're essentially just boxes," Pedersen says. They're also easily adaptable to the families' changing needs.
The long, single-story pavilion can function as two smaller separate rooms, each with its own entry, or one larger one, depending on whether the pivot doors on either side of a central closet are open or closed. In the more compact two-story pavilion, the ground level belongs to the children; a painted-birch ladder leads to the parents' loft, which has birch saplings for safety railings. There's no closet, but Pedersen's team provided cubbies on the loft's underside and additional storage beneath trap doors in the loft's floor.
The spare furnishings are mostly flea-market finds—among them, amazingly, a red polyurethane Verner Panton chair. Mattresses lie directly on the floor, and windows are placed accordingly. In the loft, someone lying down has a deftly framed view of the lake shore. On the ground level of both pavilions, other slices of landscape are eye-level from a resting position. Pedersen calls the windows "just holes in the wall, no detail." But perhaps he's underselling the ingenious way they open and close: The glass and screen retract into channels in the wall when someone steps on a foot-powered rubber wheel, a technology that Pedersen and his students adapted from car windows. "In your bed, you not only can see nature," the architect says. "With a breeze, you can also feel it."
You can hear nature as well. After 8:00 PM, ferry traffic ceases, and the only noise on the island comes from the occasional plane landing at Berlin International Airport in Tegel. Once the airport closes in the next few years, that sound will be gone, too.