Brandenburg Special
33 square meters, twisted
By Florian Heilmeyer
Mar 19, 2015

Calling Schönhagen a village would be exaggerating things. Minimalist conglomeration of ancient farmhouses and at a pinch a hamlet would be closer to reality. Added to which Schönhagen is located at the back of the back of beyond: Roughly 100 kilometers northwest of Berlin’s city limits you won’t find any paths crossing, and will be hard pressed to spot one of Brandenburg’s attractive lakes or very rare elevations. Not surprisingly, tourism isn’t really booming in this neck of the woods – and why should anyone want to come here? The landscape is plain flat, allowing the gaze to wander across endless fields until is arrested by a tiny random forest. Or by one of Schönhausen’s three farms which, believe it or not, are listed as heritage buildings.

And so it was that the new owners of Haus Thuneke spotted their new abode quite by chance. Driving through the village today, your eyes will inevitably linger on this random-looking extension with the large yellow glass front that that is peering out from behind an old brick wall and overlooking the main road. It was in 2010 that the owners bought the “intact ensemble of farm buildings,” Grundmann tells me, “closed on four sides, including a residential building, two stables and a barn.” Erected

around 250 years ago with solid redbrick walls and timber framing, the main building facing the road is no doubt a stodgy structure; its small windows are embedded in thick white frames. Originally, the interior resembled a labyrinth of tiny rooms, 13 in total, extending across 166 square meters on two floors. Heritage protection meant that there were limits to the structural modifications that could be made.

“Our first meetings focused on addressing the contradictions between the realities of the building and the wishes of the owners,” Grundmann says. They wanted a bright home that would offer them “modern living”, with as many openings to the outside as possible. However, not least for financial reasons the first renovation phase focused on just one side of the main building, to the west of the large gate. For the time being, the remaining buildings will only have the minimum of work done to them to prevent them from falling apart.

“The idea was to make optimum use of the relatively few possibilities available. The building was gutted almost entirely and the interior walls removed. But the timber structure was saved to give a sense of the original layout.” The only modification visible from outside are the ground floor windows facing out onto the yard: They now run down to the floor and have been replaced by doors.

The interior walls remaining were stripped of the old wallpaper and paint, and left bare. The ground floor got a new layer of screed, while the top floor was outfitted with pine plywood. The result: Each floor now has 80 square meters of continuous space, structured in the center by a service block made of pine plywood and frosted glass panels housing the WC, bathroom, and storage space. As the small windows are under preservation order the timber elements were whitewashed to brighten up the rooms.

While on the inside the prevailing activity has been that of subtraction, the west pediment boasts the addition we glimpsed from the main street earlier: an extension that architecturally speaking is at loggerheads with the old fat farmhouse – paradoxically “to ultimately resolve some of the conflicts”. This new space offers many of those qualities lacking in the original building. Glazed on three sides, the 33-square-meter space juts out into the orchard, bending when one of the old trees gets in the way, structuring the annex into a kitchen and dining area with a twist.

The annex has been consciously designed to be a light, almost fleeting, ephemeral structure – the transparent sketch of a space. And yet, the idea was not, as one might assume, to formulate the greatest possible aesthetic contrast to the existing structure. The solution is simply a pragmatic one, born out of the necessity to comply with the preservation order. The frameless glass panels of the extension are slotted into the outer brick wall, meaning they are relatively easy to remove if necessary. As the construction site is itself listed as a monument, the new addition is based on five socket foundations and thus elevated by 1.40 meters.

The only element of this down-to-earth low-cost extension that could be considered extravagant faces north, towards the street: a yellow 2.40 meter glass pane. “Here, the idea was to jazz up the light that falls into the kitchen,” says Grundmann. “Added to which the color references the reddish-yellow bricks of the existing building, plus it softens the sight of the farmhouses across the street, which have not been modernized to their best advantage.

Another reason: The new annex clearly faces south, its height extends from 2.40 meters to 4.20 meters, its width from 2.40 meters to 5.50 meters. The large south-facing façade curves gently around the building and culminates in a patio that links the old building with the new one. A perforated black curtain can be drawn across the full width of the south façade to provide glare and sun protection.

The space adds a whole new dimension to the open-plan composition on the inside while lending the outside a relatively compact look-and-feel. A contrast that nonetheless forges a connection in terms of construction and materials. The fact that the annex was realized very much as a DIY project likewise relates to the tradition of the old farm – albeit with decidedly contemporary means.