Philipp von Matt Architects recently completed “O12 — Artist House”, a bright, sculptural new home, hosting a gallery with an exhibition space and an atelier, located in the central Mitte district of Berlin. Blending ornament with minimalism, the architect designed O12 as a hybrid between architecture and art, as an authentic and untainted stage where artwork shapes freely the life of each and every space.
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Fostering the dialogue between art and architecture, the project is born of the continuous exchange between the architect and the private client — a well-known French artist. The result is a hybrid of artwork and architecture, that responds to the critical challenge of balancing professional and private life.
The facade is a seemingly arbitrary composition of openings, subtly reminiscent of the rhythm of the surrounding buildings. The exterior provides little hint of the interior design, enabling the discovery of the unashamed raw magnificence of the concrete staircase, upon entering the front door. The arrangement of the flights of stairs and the zenithal lighting, immediately evoke the atmosphere of Piranesi’s drawings. Here, the exposed concrete appears to be a timeless stone, while a cascade of light draws the gaze upwards.
“I am fascinated by the friction between the ordinary and the remarkable and I like the quality of creating something ordinary because it is not easy to achieve…like that feeling of comfort when you enter an old building that has been standing for hundreds of years, what we could call the ordinary in the sense of the well-known”, asserts Philipp von Matt.
The ground floor harbours a more public vocation, housing a gallery and an exhibition space. The sequence of rooms unfolds along the stairway in a concatenation of monumental and intimate spaces, generously open to the West and with more modest rooms to the East. The first floor hosts the kitchen and the living area, while the second floor is entirely dedicated to the sleeping area. Going up the stairs and following a path that seems to simultaneously compress and decompress spaces, guests finally reach the peak: the top floor exclusively occupied by the atelier.
The whole building vibrates harmoniously, through the dynamic lines of the emphatic wave of a curved wall of reinforced concrete traversing the living space, and through platonic elements freely positioned in the space, such as the ample fireplace set against the brick-coloured wall of the dining room, evocative of the Cestius’ pyramid in Rome and Antonio Canova’s tomb in Venice.
Natural light plays a central role as it influences the shift in atmosphere, with open, light-flooded rooms and more intimate, warmly lit ones. The rooftop studio’s large skylight lends the room the appearance of an atelier en plain air, with the glass roof serving as the sky.
This resonance of light is amplified by the selective use of colours and materials. The hues of the rooms dedicated to art are delicate and neutral, while the shades in the living spaces become increasingly warm and inviting. The combination of different materials, from concrete and steel to wood and natural, earthy elements such as clay plaster, terracotta and ceramics, fuse to create surprising twists in the narrative of the space.
The skylight engages in a whispered visual dialogue with the nearby industrial buildings in a continuous fluctuation between interior and exterior, concentration and contemplation. The studio is the most secret and intimate space, yet one that also invites external impulses. In fact, the room’s only window frames Berlin’s landmarks, such as the TV tower, expanding the private horizon into the urban environment.
Rather than impressing with volumetric complexity, the house-atelier touches guests through its scale of spatial relationships, strong materiality, and unexpected views.
Blending ornament and minimalism, the project maintains an essential profile that leaves significant space for the art to shape the life of the rooms. In this sense, O12 defines the interplay between architecture and art, and between foreground and background, becoming an authentic and untainted stage for art.
Philipp von Matt Architects is an international firm focused on architecture, art and exhibition architecture. Founded by Philipp von Matt in 1995 after 10 years of architectural practice in Switzerland, Paris and Berlin, the office stands out for his thoughtful approach to space proportions and light, materiality and chromaticity, minimalism and technology. These elements, the Japanese influence and the careful understanding of the interactions between art and architecture, make the works of Philipp von Matt Architects distinctive and incomparable, but at the same time solid, representative and durable.
Philipp von Matt is born in Stans, Switzerland. After an initial self-taught apprenticeship in architecture, he moved to Paris to work with Jean Nouvel and then to Berlin, where he worked with several architects including Renzo Piano, Philipp Johnson and Suter+Suter. In Berlin, he worked as Project Manager in charge of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop for the implementation of the Daimler Benz project at Potsdamer Platz and as a Partner of PRvM GmbH, where he was responsible for the planning of the new embassy of Canada at Leipziger Platz. In 1995, he founded his own firm Philipp von Matt Architects.
In the past 20 years, the office designed exhibition architectures worldwide for museums, private galleries and artists, such as his wife, the well-known Japan artist Leiko Ikemura. He collaborated with institutions such as the Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin, Germany), the Staatliche Kunsthalle Kahrlsruhe (Kahrlsruhe, Germany), the Kunstmuseum Basel (Basel, Switzerland), the Nevada Museum for Art (Reno, USA), the National Museum of Modern Art and the National Art Center (Tokyo, Japan). He has recently completed an atelier and artist houses in Berlin, while two further artist houses in Cologne and Japan are under construction.
Project title O12 — Artist House in Berlin
Location Mitte, Berlin, Germany
Date January 2020
GFA 670 sq.m.
Architecture Philipp von Matt Architects
Project team Philipp von Matt, Stefano Tiracchia
Contractor TBN Terminbau Niesky GmbH, Niesky
Structural engineering Marko Ludwig, 2B Planungsgesellschaft
Acoustic engineering Peter Schoch, 2B Planungsgesellschaft
Technical building installations Ralf Ihlefeldt, PKB Ingenieurgesellschaft
Fire safety concept ABIT Ingenieure
Photography Courtesy of Philipp von Matt