LUCERNE – While it might be debatable if the residents of the housing complex Himmelrich 1 ever gave a thought to its name for its first 90 years of life, one feature of its recent refurbishment is certain to provoke contemplation. The comprehensive project commissioned by nonprofit housing cooperative Allgemeine Baugenossenschaft Lucerne was inspired by casting “Himmelrich” as a multilingual wordplay: ‘himmel’, which translates from German as ‘sky’, with the English word ‘rich’ yields ‘sky-rich’. While the historic façades of the existing buildings have been preserved, a striking assembly centre now sits in the courtyard, the contribution of Swiss firm Steiner Sarnen Schweiz AG.

Confronting the project theme head-on, the mirror-clad monopoly house reflects the sky above, drawing it into the heart of the complex, with pendant lighting inside emulating a starry night. The celestial features do not amount to simply a nebulous gimmick, however, but are also intended to enhance the social function of the building. The reflections of both the sky and the surrounding façades generate a dynamic spatial experience that emphasises unique perspectives while still connecting in form and proportion to the structure of the complex. The one-way transparency of the glass from the outside additionally serves a dual purpose of creating a cozy enclosure for occupants where visitors are nevertheless always welcome.

Of course, with such skyward fixations, it would be ignorant not to think of the birds. The house’s surfaces have been marked with dots to keep them from flying into the walls.

Photos courtesy of Stefano Schröter

In Mark 61, we take a look at how architecture can influence government activity with a sneak-peek into architectural office XML’s forthcoming book Parliaments. Find your copy in the Frame store.