Bruther: So far in our practice, we have never had the occasion to build a house, which renders our relationship with the question „what is a house for?” quite peculiar. Day to day, we work and live in a dense urban situation, which we like and enjoy, but it means the idea of being at home, is not such a strong one. It’s probably for this reason, that for us, a house is more of a refuge and certainly an intentional precise experience that we consciously decide to enter into. This is especially true during holidays. In reality, we expect a house to give us a break from all our normal relationships with the world. Having said this, however strange and different they are, we allow these experiences to strongly influence us, and the way we design, and find they bring new inspiration to many things.
Two years ago, we were invited to the architectural biennale in São Paulo. Afterwards, a few days before leaving, we decided to take some holidays in Brazil and started searching for accommodation outside of the city. By chance, we found a surprising house. On the spot, we all agreed to rent a car and travel through the countryside to reach it. At that point we didn’t know it was a house designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha. We only discovered this later, shortly before arriving.
The seven days we spent in Casa Gerber were fantastic because you could just leave the room and jump into the sea, and directly feel the sun, even the wind on your skin. In fact, we are much more interested in the way you can live there and enjoy all the pleasures the house has to offer, rather than consider its academic or professional value.
In northern Europe, the only moment you can really live outside is during the summer, while in Brazil, the temperature is stable and pretty much constant throughout the whole year. Since the climatic conditions are so different, the architectural devices can become very simple. Suddenly everything becomes so thin: single panes of frameless glass and very simple roofs hovering overhead.
I’m sure that this is the biggest difference, as I find that culturally, we are very similar. We are both fascinated in reducing the means needed to produce buildings. That’s what we like, at least what we try to achieve - not to bring sophisticated reflections or theoretical approaches but mostly to be pragmatic, to keep in sight a simple way of being and create through architecture, the basic conditions necessary for life.
In our office we invent solutions to make transitions between inside and outside spontaneous - in a European context. We have become obsessed with windows, not so much for the sake of transparency, rather more as devices that allow different relationships between interior and exterior. The fact that thanks to a mechanism called a window, you can be suddenly and without effort outside, excites us enormously.
THE FEELING OF TOTAL VISUAL AND PHYSICAL TRANSPARENCY IS VERY PRESENT ON THE MAIN FLOOR OF CASA GERBER. ON THE CONTRARY, THE UNDERGROUND ELONGATED ROOM HAS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CHARACTER, WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?
It’s a really ambiguous and interesting space, but we never spent more than half an hour there. We just passed through it to reach the beach. Sometimes my daughter played there. For me it was maybe too dark. The rock has a really fantastic presence in this narrow room full of beautiful furniture. It’s a place of solitude, where you could write a book or sit in silence, since you have a very limited visual relation both with the outside and the rest of the house. I like it more as an image than as a space.
PAULO MENDES DA ROCHA HAS SAID MANY TIMES THAT HE ALWAYS THINKS OF SPACE AS PUBLIC, EVEN IF IT IS A PRIVATE HOUSE. WHAT IS PUBLIC ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR HOUSE?
In Casa Gerber life revolves around the big table which I would say is the main protagonist. It produces a very collective moment in a very profound way. You feel at ease. Above, the ceiling is broad, flat, and connects the table to the horizon and your surroundings. You don’t see and are not troubled by any thoughts of science or structure and consequently you never really feel the spans or the challenges the house deals with.
The welcoming character of the house is evident, in a very different way to, for example, Can Lis by Utzon. There, when you are in this beautiful room with the solid sofa overlooking the sea, you feel very good, but you cannot open the windows, and it remains just “a beautiful space”, comfortable but very staged. In contrast, many possibilities exist within Casa Gerber. Nothing is fixed, and by opening all the windows, your living room suddenly expands and merges with the outside. You have a feeling of going back to primordial times when space was exclusively public.
To be honest, we are not so interested in domesticity and don’t really believe in human scale either. What is important, is the memory we have of swimming in the sea, close to the house, when nature appeared powerful and spatially luxurious and the perception of everything was equally huge and infinite. That was a really fantastic feeling.
We find it particularly inspiring to design something that is not supposed to be a house and then just inhabit it afterwards. Very often this attitude produces amazing spaces. The imperative of domesticity and human scale is often linked to a certain “smallness”. It is the exact lack of this notion that we like in Casa Gerber. You can remove all the furniture and everything that has a direct relation to your body, until the space is defined by just four pillars, the roof, and the landscape. What happens under the roof immediately becomes a real playground. Somehow even the arrangement of rooms is not so important. All these decisions came after the first act. One of the questions that we had after arriving was: why are the bedrooms arranged towards the most exposed side of the house? On reflection we realised that it didn’t matter, you can reorganise the space as you wish, for its basic qualities will always remain and don’t rely on such specific decisions.
YOU MENTION THE PARADOXICAL LAYOUT WHERE TOILETS AND BEDROOMS FACE THE BEST VIEW - MAYBE THIS HOUSE IS NOT ABOUT THE VIEW, BUT FOCUSES MORE ON ANOTHER TYPE OF INTIMATE RELATION WITH THE SURROUNDINGS, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I agree that the view is perhaps not the most important factor, but this does not mean the presence of the landscape is not felt. It’s a project about catching the landscape that surrounds you. The depth of field, however, is interesting, emphasised by the fact that the roof cantilevers over the window line. The fact that the landscape is sometimes really close and sometimes really far away brings a great dynamism to the spatial experience. In the bedrooms the relationship is very frontal, and without the depth created by intermediate elements, the landscape becomes an abstract screen. On the other side it’s exactly the opposite, as you always have an element, a rock, or a tree, which produce an intermediate scale. The layering of the landscape is very rich, and you really see it!
HOW DO YOU FEEL BETWEEN THE FOUR PILLARS?
You know, sometimes we forget how we were as kids, and this is really a space for children! You can touch the pillars, you can turn around them, you can bend things between them. You feel something quite beautiful. I saw my children playing around them and I really liked the way they used them. Like the project by Aldo van Eyck with a column and a circle drawn on the ground. The children run around this column. It’s exactly the same kind of situation in Casa Gerber, the columns stop being structural elements and become the centre of a game.