MVRDV sculpts a back-to-front villa around an olive tree

Casa Kwantes by MVRDV. Photos Ossip van Duivenbode

ROTTERDAM – A child’s first drawing of a house is bound to include an array of front-facing windows. Dutch homes even have a reputation of transparency, with large, curtain-less glazing encouraging a more open way of living. At Casa Kwantes, however, the client specifically asked for two opposing ideals: on the one hand requesting seclusion and privacy and, in contrast, wanting to maximize daylight and open living spaces. Local firm MVRDV obliged with a two-faced concept that turns the approach of a typical house back-to-front.

To a nosey neighbour, the narrow bricks of the bare north wall offer little insight that the building is even a home. The single side opening, with its solitary curved form, creates functional intrigue and subtly breaks up the otherwise bare façade. At the reverse of the property, however, the life and soul of the building becomes apparent.

Fully opened up to the south, full-height glazing wraps around this entire side of the house as it undulates around the form of a central olive tree – a feature that draws on the part-Greek heritage of the client – to provide a means of orientation. ‘The tree was a request by the owners to create a courtyard,’ explains studio co-founder Jacob van Rijs. ‘The olive tree works particularly well because of its height. It becomes the central viewing focus from all parts of the house and it is a beautiful sight, particularly with the changes in light at different times of the day, as it creates reflections on the glass façade.’

Although the building’s orientation is a direct response to the client’s desires, two immediate concerns come hand-in-hand with the words ‘south-facing glazing’: heat loss and solar gain. However, the architect is confident that sufficient provisions are in place to counteract the environmental conflict and to even make the residence a self-supporting haven for its inhabitants. ‘The living spaces absorb the most sunlight and, in warmer months, they have sun shading due to the slight cantilever of the floor above,’ van Rijs assures. ‘The villa also has solar panels installed on the roof in order to compensate for the energy loss from the expansive glazing. We discreetly installed a ground heat exchange system so that energy gained due to the cooling of spaces is stored in the soil to be used for heating in the winter. These are all being tested over the first year of occupancy with the intention that the villa will become entirely self-sufficient in the future.’

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