By Jennifer McMaster
Situated on the outskirts of Zurich, Haus M is a deceptively simple and robust apartment building. Designed by Duplex Architekten, the project provides its residents with a highly liveable, and sociable, apartment model.
Haus M forms one part of Mehr Als Wohnen, a housing co-operative comprised of thirteen discrete apartment buildings. The ambitious vision for the development filters through to Haus M, where Duplex Architekten had a chance to experiment with new means of co-operative living.
This begins on the ground floor. Across the whole development, the buildings maintain a pattern of ground floor commercial, or cultural, tenancies, and are topped by apartments. Haus M also adopts this model, with its ground floor spaced devoted to a children’s playground and a small school. These functions open out onto public spaces and a common green, keeping in line with the development’s vision to ‘create a part of the city rather than an estate.’
Duplex Architekten’s Haus M – otherwise known as the Housing Community – contains twenty-nine apartments across its six storeys. One side of the building is bordered by rambling gardens, while the other overlooks a more manicured lawn, where children frequently play.
As a building mass, Haus M adopts a wedge shape, tapering in plan to meet the quirks of its site. Above this, the building facade is gentle and rhythmic, with balanced window openings and neat Juliet balconies overlooking the common green. The neutrality of this facade becomes a backdrop for the smaller animations of everyday life – blinds lifting up or down, people leaning out over steel balustrades, or pot plants flourishing on a ledge.
Walking inside the building, it immediately opens up into a joyful, light-filled void. A common staircase loops through the space, leading up to each level of apartments. There is a generous amount of space left between the corridors and each apartment’s frontage, lending each unit a space to leave shoes, toys or bikes.
This space, like many across Haus M, celebrates the simple joys and activities of life. It also encourages people to live outside their apartments, and within their community. According to Duplex Architekten, this staircase acts as a ‘common room’ for the development, drawing in daylight and acting as a social space.
The apartments that ring this large, common space are intentionally small and compact. Inside, the material palette remains plain and calm. Inky floors are matched by concrete ceilings and detailing is kept uncomplicated. Windows and clerestories draw in natural light, which washes down white walls.
The simple rigour of these apartments is further revealed in the building’s construction. Haus M is built from Porotherm clay blocks, a relatively new material which permits single-skin walls in medium-rise construction. Impressively, the building is designed around a block module, meaning that the floor-to-ceiling heights, wall lengths and window dimensions are all exactingly proportioned.
This attention to detail is evident throughout Haus M, and yet the architecture has quickly become a backdrop to the more important act of building a new community. In this way, Duplex Architekten have managed to create a project that is highly successful, and yet quiet and humble in what it provides to its residents.
Haus M is not an architecture of ostentation or extravagance. Instead, it focuses on making a beautiful and robust shell for its occupants. Ultimately, this is what makes this building a joy to visit, and a place where a community is already thriving.