Ever since the first studio diagram came out, the plans for Villa NM have always reminded me of a Bach Two-Part Invention – the invention being Philip Johnson’s “Glass House” which here unfolds into two separate units like a gesture parting spaces that the American architect had overlooked.a The first plans for Villa NM date from 2000, the year when designs like the Moebius House or the magnetic resonance imaging lab at Utrecht University began to circulate the name of Ben van Berkel as an experimenter in complex geometries. Unlike other projects, I felt this one would never come to fruition – it was so perfect, no doubt it would crumple on contact with everyday reality. The layout of space, clean and complex, was the stuff of pure thought, not suited to physical materialization. But I have had to eat my words: not only is the villa built, its geometry even seems to match with invisible features of that first diagram, like the lie of the land and the effective distribution of space inside. Villa NM is the summer residence of a young couple from New York City. It stands on a gentle slope and takes its cue from the terrain. To van Berkel’s mind, it is a platform for “experiencing landscape”: 360° glazing commands the surrounding woodlands. The sloping ground is used to generate space and volume layout in this house. A simple cube splits into two distinct bodies: the kitchen drops away with the land, the sleeping area juts up and out to form covered parking for two cars. The real fireworks lie in how these areas merge and meet. The walls twist up and over to form a new floor; what was floor in turn becomes wall in a surprising reversal of planes. Five surfaces twist propeller-like while another five bend to produce a bifurcation in space. From the outside this screw action provides a virtuoso formal display; inside the unexpected space effect hovers between biomorphism and sci-fi, somehow contriving to divide up the areas without losing visual and structural continuity. Outwardly the villa blends with its surrounds: walls and floors match the colour of the ground; large glass panes reflect back the scenery. At times it seems to invite comparison with a work by American artist Dan Graham in which glass panes standing out of doors make one lose one’s bearings between reality and reflection. Reclining on, almost suspended above, the ground, Villa NM is built nearly all in pre-fab parts. But unlike a house by Richard Neutra, the parts in cement and iron, which may be clad in wood, have an unexpected flow to them. The innovation here lies in the extreme ductility of surface, employed so as to serve design aims which are mainly structural and not purely aesthetic. This is what van Berkel calls the “inclusive principle, one single mould that includes all design requirements: from structural to formal aspects, and from organization of space to details of construction”. In keeping with this principle, the furnishings are architect-designed: the kitchen worktop curls on itself and every feature seems to respond to some generating idea. Part of a long line of American suburban villas, beginning with Mies’ Farnsworth House down to Glenn Murcutt’s ethereal dwellings, Villa NM seeks to provide a blueprint for home design, architecture taking its cue from our requirements. This project may not be a point of arrival so much as an interesting point of departure towards a galaxy of novel space effects.