New build or conversion? The house in Merlischachen by AFGH Architekten is anything but easy to categorize.

Hardy Houses 12
Finished unfinished

Fuhrimann Hächler toyed with the temporary nature of rural architecture when converting an old farmhouse in Switzerland.
by Florian Heilmeyer | 3/14/2017

The small town of Merlischachen in Switzerland is halfway between Lucerne and Küssnacht on the shore of Lake Lucerne. To the southeast you can look across the water into the morning sun and the mostly snow-covered slopes of the Uri Alps. Even Switzerland rarely gets more beautiful than this. It is small wonder that Merlischachen has been a highly popular place to live for many years now, with corresponding real-estate prices. The new owners of this old farm also spent a long time searching before they found, with a mixture of luck and skill, the 15,000-square-meter property on the edge of town.

With a view of Lake Lucerne, the house is part of an old farm complete with barn, shed and all manner of kitchen gardens.

Rugged mountains, robust houses

For the conversion work they hired architects Gabriele Hächler and Andreas Fuhrimann, known for their radical and often also sculptural buildings. The farm in Merlischachen comprised a house, barn and shed, a hodgepodge of somewhat pragmatic agricultural buildings that had always been built and modified with materials available in the immediate surroundings. The architects looked at the buildings, then at the landscape, and decided to use both the strong, robust building typologies of the surrounding farms and buildings and the rugged mountain peaks in the distance as reference points for their work.

The existing farmhouse was built in the 1980s and the architects deemed it to be of “dubious architectural quality.” It was torn down, and now the new house with the simple barn opposite and the herb garden form the new entrance to the property. A tree-lined path leads to the barn situated somewhat further away, which the architects renovated in “contemporary” fashion with limited interventions.

As raw and unfinished as the facades, as raw are the spaces inside the house.
The interior rooms offer the luxury of a bright and unfinished void.

High, raw rooms

The buildings in the surrounding area are often simple half-timbered structures. “We have long been fascinated by the graphic quality of the patterns formed by the timbers,” note the architects. As such, they wanted to make use of this quality in their new build, yet without producing a nostalgic, romantic copy of the old building type. The new building was to be raw, robust and pragmatic like the old structures which had been modified many times. And that it is. Although with its four stories and a full 280 square meters of living space it is considerably larger than many of the surrounding dwellings, it still melds into this rugged and unpretentious landscape. You walk around the house and wonder if it really is new, or whether it must have indeed been a conversion that gave rise to the strange forms. The shape and materials of the house clearly link it with the town and simultaneously lend it a strong autonomy.

Where looking upwards into the central staircase feels like looking down a mining shaft...

This duality is also evident inside. On the one hand the architecture champions a raw and unfinished appearance here too, with rough concrete and visible plywood panels. The resulting, rather quirky robustness of the rooms will presumably get cozier as the years pass and the inhabitants leave traces of their presence. On the other hand no expense was spared in terms of luxury; the house boasts particularly large, bright rooms that can be used in myriad ways, a large chandelier and an elevator. “The goal,” the architects reiterate, “was to develop a language that is fed by the traditional architecture, but is immediately recognizable as contemporary architecture and not romanticizing in a conservative sense. The alternation between simplicity, rustic directness, contemporary comfort and architectural refinement lends the house a very specific character.” Obviously, taste is a matter of opinion, but the architects have evidently met their own requirements in full: a house like a mountain, even if a particularly comfortable one.

In terms of shape, the new build takes its cue from traditional farmhouses in the region - and from the surrounding mountains.