Light yet heavy

Villa Weidendall in Luxembourg by Rodolphe Mertens Architects draws its inspiration from the country’s industrial past and morphs between a delicate lightness and sculptural heaviness.
by Alexander Russ | 8/19/2020

Luxembourg, that is the tax haven between Germany, France and Belgium. At least that is the first thing that springs to most people’s minds when they think of the small country. However, not only can you save money there, the country also has some inspiring architecture. For example, the Philharmonie concert hall designed by Christian de Portzamparc or the recently commissioned National Library by Bolles+Wilson. Moreover, such impressive buildings are not only to be found in public spaces: The grand duchy boasts a number of industrial monuments associated with the mining of iron ore. Although many mines were forced to close, some of the steel factories still operate or, like the blast furnaces in Belval, have been converted into impressive museums. References to the area’s architectural legacy of mining can also be found in Villa Weidendall. The clients wanted a house in the classic Modernist idiom with a raw industrial look that would recall the history of steel production. To achieve this Rodolphe Mertens Architects designed a building that makes use of juxtapositions: On the one hand, the generously glazed facade brings nature into the villa and lends the interior spaces an airy open feeling. In contrast, the coarse fair-faced concrete walls and ceilings that envelop the volumes like a folded strip provide a certain grounding quality.

“The clients wanted to create a place that exudes peace and calm. This is why we designed a concrete shell as a protective cover that envelops the building,” Rodolphe Mertens says of the spatial concept. The three-storey villa covering some 970 square meters is located on a plot enclosed by beech trees and pines at the end of a cul-de-sac. An old building had to be demolished to make way for the new one, but according to the architect it had no connection at all to its surroundings and topography. He wanted to alter that with the new house and therefore aligned it with the course of the sun: The facade opens to the south, while the garden faces west and east. Where the facade faces north and to the street it is closed. So as to better integrate the large volume into the plot Mertens altered the topography of the site. Now the basement with swimming pool sits half immersed as a base on the slope, while the two other levels are set back somewhat as l-shaped volumes above it.

On the ground floor the living room and dining room with an open-plan kitchen are arranged on different levels and connected to one another via steps. For the lowered living area, the clients opted for the modular sofa Extra Wall by Living Divani, which fits perfectly into the available space. On the ceiling the architect installed the acoustic panels Soft Cells by Kvadrat to dampen the sound of the hard concrete ceilings. Even lighting is provided by the ceiling luminaire Spock by Modular Lighting Instruments.

On the first floor there are four bedrooms that dock onto a continuous balcony. The main staircase interacts with the ground floor via two airspaces. It gets daylight via a patio, which thanks to the two airspaces also provides light for the two-storey entrance area. This verticality is further emphasized with the Bocci 14 Series, which lights up the stairwell. The adjoining work area is furnished with the Eero Saarinen Tulip Chairs and Tulip Table by Knoll, while sufficient storage space is afforded by the USM Haller system. The clearest reference to the area’s industrial legacy can be found in the custom-made fitted items, namely shelving, banisters or partitions on the ground floor and first floor. The steel furniture that is both delicate and coarse provide a visual connection between the separate areas, while still leaving enough room so as not to disturb the flowing open space. Together with the concrete walls and ceilings they not only connect the villa with its location but also with a piece of history.