Brutalism with a French touch: a home conversion in Erlenbach, near Zurich, built by architect Ernst Gisel

Iserlohn, 10 January 2023

His artistic yet timeless approach to construction projects makes Swiss architect Ernst Gisel a role model for generations of creative architects. The special nature of his work is demonstrated impressively through the home that he designed in 1988 in Erlenbach, on the banks of Lake Zürich, which was converted by Victoria Maria Interior Design in 2022. The timeless modernity and unassuming clarity of the Dornbracht fittings, Tara and Meta, underline the new style of the house.

Swiss architect Ernst Gisel’s creative phase lasted more than six decades, during which numerous structures of various topographies and scales came into existence. Formulated in different designs, they are the result of taking a holistic view of user needs, context and topography. Expressive exposed concrete and the use of natural materials such as stone, wood, or slate, also shape the ensemble made up of two, semi-detached houses in Erlenbach. Gisel’s response to the sloping location and narrow site was with differentiated spatial layers.

While the ground floor acted as the entrance to the house, the living spaces, with a view over Lake Zürich, were located on the upper storeys. Accentuated front areas, courtyard gardens and terraces cut into the space, combining the interior with the exterior and creating different open areas to spend time in and enjoy. Unusual for the context is the use of a barrel roof, but this upward termination is merely the logical consequence of the spatial composition.

The house as a sculpture
The challenge for interior designer Victoria Maria was to combine the brutalism of the architecture with comfort and elegance, as well as with a French touch. The highly textured and exposed concrete ceiling as a design element therefore remains as strikingly visible as the niches, fireplaces and lamps designed for the house. The recesses and cut-outs in walls and partitions that Gisel selected for zoning, various textures, and changes of material, as well as accentuating areas with incident light, also continue to play a role. Round wall junctions, windows in unusual positions, breakthroughs and an open gallery create constantly changing perspectives. Pivotal to the house is the central staircase that links all levels. The narrow air space eliminates the spatial boundaries between them and orchestrates visual relationships for the occupants.

Stylish modernisation
Not only were the floors replaced, the kitchen and bathrooms were also re-imagined. Requirements have changed over the years, so the industrial arrangement of the kitchen has been replaced in favour of an open plan kitchen. Brass, enamelled green lava rock and Emperador marble influence the new atmosphere.

The use of Tara in the bathrooms has a reduced look and feel. This was a further development of what was already there. A light, Italian travertine was chosen for the wall, floor, and rising surfaces to contrast with the highly textured, exposed concrete ceiling. The cubic precision of the fixtures divides the area into zones, with the large mirrors expanding the space. This reduction to what is essential creates an unassuming atmosphere of clarity, which is particularly highlighted using the new Brushed Dark Platinum finish. The use of the Tara fitting in the bathrooms was complemented by choosing the Meta fitting in the guest bathroom. In the Brushed Dark Platinum finish, the design meets the demand for modern minimalism, as well as for enduring aesthetic appeal.

The balance of high-quality finishes with a pleasant feel, the mix of muted and intense colours, and the exceptional textiles and wallpapers, all maintain the style of the building, but at the same time, set a new and contemporary tone. The unconventional character of the house is preserved. And yet the new elements respect what is already there in a natural way. In keeping with the spirit of Ernst Gisel.

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