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Villa MN


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...

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