This Stylised Italian Building Isn’t Going to End Up in Landfill

The 2017 Wohnhaus Andergassen Urthaler by Architekt Andreas Gruber was built for a modest-living but forward-thinking family of four with an appreciation for the value of the earth. Located on the margins of the village of Barbian in South Tyrol, Italy, it makes many nods to its surroundings.

Wooden details soften the concrete texture.

The dark grey concrete matches the colour of the local weathered porphyry stone, and the angularity of the building itself nods to the surrounding hilly landscape. Most impressively, the entire building is insulated using a specially designed concrete, doing away with the need for plastics or other environmentally hazardous insulation materials.

The 150sqm house took seven months of planning and six months of construction to bring to life. Larch wood details – the exterior windows, and interior cladding – add warm touches to a minimalist interior, custom designed for the family’s simple requirements.

An angular shape, for a hilly landscape.

The windows act as picture frames, too, for the landscape outside, including one looking out exclusively onto the steep slope on which the house is built. The slanted roof and irregular polygon shape of the building maximise the views, and satisfy architect Andreas Gruber’s belief that a more conventional shape “would contradict the countryside of SouthTyrol and the Dolomites”.

In this way achieving a magnificent view of said mountain range, as well as the impressive Schlern and Plose, the stylish house fits in comfortably with the environment. As it will do when, years in the future, it is eventually recycled.

Larch for the windows is the other primary building material.

TP: Talk us through the special concrete you’ve used as insulation?
The house is built from concrete with special insulating properties. It’s a mix of closed cell cellular glass, water, different cement, and a medium which creates foam. In South Tyrol the body which certifies the energy credentials of a house is very strict, and we had to meet a high standard.

The simple living space is flexible and multi-purpose.

TP: What is most challenging about designing a house for such a steep plot?
Landscape shapes the architects. We are used to planning on steep plots, and of course this opens up more possibilities.

Panoramic views through the spacious windows.

TP: What inspired the minimalist interior design?
The clients are very simple people. They don’t need a lot to live, and they like it tidy. So the concept of the interior is orientated to the living style of the client. It’s a tailored project.

The roof can, but for this two-children family doesn’t, function as a terrace.

TP: How do you imagine the house being ‘recycled’ in future?
I think the house will be kept for further generations, like the old farm houses in the village. They are 300-400 years old, as they demonstrate a very good combination of living quality and construction quality.

The unique concrete design means no artificial insulation is required.

TP: Will we see more recyclable buildings from the industry in future?
I hope so! The building industry is growing, and I think it’s our responsibility to contribute to the coming generations. We only have one world and we have to look after it.

A monochrome colour scheme continues throughout the property.

TP: So this special concrete insulation is one step in a longer journey?
The classical insulation companies in the EU of course contribute to reducing energy loss in the building sector, but they are also producing tones billions tons of rubbish. With our project we would like to show that there are also very good opportunities in mineral construction to reduce rubbish!  

The hill-facing window demonstrates the studio’s desire to make nature the star player.

A spotless kitchen lifts the airy space.

Detail of the concrete exterior.

The adapted concrete should last for centuries.

An airy house with stripped-back stairways to match.

A tailor-made minimalist interior for a family that appreciates tidiness.

Windows provide stunning views of the Italian mountains.

Three floors fit well when set into a steep slope.

plan ground floor
Ground floor plan.

plan first floor
First floor plan.

plan second floor
Second floor plan.

plan side view
Side view.

Site plan.

Photography by Gustav Willeit