Hide and seek in suburbia

Dick van Gameren was inspired by the tradition of functional modernism for the latest extension to a suburban bungalow.

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This article was originally published in Domus 951, October 2011

Villa 4.0 is located in an excavation area of the historical fortress town of Naarden—an environment imbued with cultural history, well-tended natural beauty, and just boring enough to offer the necessary peace and quiet after a busy working day in the big city.

Previously the client inhabited an apartment also designed by Van Gameren in 1999 on the head of Amsterdam's Borneo Island. He enjoyed the architect's "inside = outside" design, connecting the experience of interior spaces to the exterior landscape by using lots of glass. Inspired by Farnsworth House, Van Gameren's translation of the client's requests consisted of the introduction of huge windows and glazed facades into the old structure and the addition of a glass pavilion. Ironically this results in a timelessness of the modernist kind.
Looking from the outside, the two funky towers Van Gameren added in the centre of the building create a humoristic contrast; yet the interior of the hallway has a very formal feel. On sunny days, natural light fiddles around playfully creating shapes and figures on the walls and floors like in a cathedral—a great way to impress new houseguests. While not being a space for lingering, the hallway does make you curious about what is happening in the other spaces: the kitchen, the bedroom or the pavilion.
This sense of going back in modernist times is strengthened by IDing's interior design, for example with the retro look of couches in the conversation pit. The client's main concern was for square metres rather than extreme luxury, and Van Gameren's transformation of the original bungalow definitely makes the most of the 500 square meters obtained with this extension, the fourth since 1967 and hence the name Villa 4.0. The view over the surrounding park-style environment is splendid and perhaps even overwhelming in combination with the emptiness of the glass pavilion.
It may sound like an unusual comment, but for kids Villa 4.0 is a great place for a game of hide and seek. The organisation of spaces, or the crazy reshaped floor plan, provides a constant element of surprise and a reason to smile.
One can't help wondering if one would feel at home here, and if the building isn't perhaps too much of a spectacle. However, the intimacy of the smaller spaces—the kitchen with its Bergkachel or the bedroom with its bamboo floor—provide the home with comfort while the choice of materials transmits warmth and personality. In these rooms one doesn't actually feel as if one is in an art piece, but rather in a functional family house. You immediately imagine reading a newspaper lying in the master bedroom, or cooking sessions in the kitchen and dinner parties with friends around the large table.

It may sound like an unusual comment for an architecture critic, but overall one could state that for kids Villa 4.0 is a great place for a game of hide and seek. The organisation of spaces, or the crazy reshaped floor plan, provides a constant element of surprise and a reason to smile.
So, what's the real criticism? The house is somewhat off balance: the pavilion is too big, and the bedroom and the studio are too small. The latter is even unimpressive. Although the view over the outside ecology is ever present, one still misses plants in the larger spaces. Perhaps the whole house lacks colours. In addition, even though this might sound like a paradox, it is particularly hard to get outside.
Nonetheless, perhaps this aspect of the architectural composition is intentional and the architect enjoys confronting or shocking visitors with these very different spatial experiences while moving from one end of the building to the other. If that's the case, then this original project is highly successful. And one would wish for it to be in a more public environment.
Christian Ernsten, Critic

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