Green Mind, Concrete Head, Wooden Hat

An ingenious little green home design by Diethelm & Spillmann Architects out of Zurich called the Passivhaus Vogel sits on the side of a hill 3,600 feet above sea level in scenic Mostelberg, Switzerland. Built in 2010, the view is looking out into the majestic valleys and mountains surrounding Lake Aegri.

Remember the old woman who lived in a shoe? This home is a wooden hat, and it sits on top of a concrete head. The concrete head is a central core structure – think of it as a pylon for the wooden hat, rising up almost three stories. Its composition is raw concrete and sand-lime plasterwork, which yields optimal thermal mass dynamics yet remains a simple, unheated garage/basement area. The wooden hat itself contains the living and working areas, and – because zoning limits the site to two-story buildings – expansion is horizontal, taking in the panoramic view while providing a column-free, 32.8-foot-wide living room tied together nicely via the 16.5-inch roof panels and façade support.

Passivhaus Vogel

image via Diethelm & Spillmann

The interior, unclad block-wood larch board pieces, which are a key part of the system, were developed just 3 miles northwest in Rothenthurm, at 65-year veteran timber manufacturer Pius Schuler. This firm engineered the nearly 1.4-inch-thick members to provide incredible structural support, allowing for huge exterior dimensions and plenty of window room. The mix of locally manufactured materials and light prefab elements, combined with an external staircase under the projection (which makes for a nice little courtyard/terrace, also keeping the wooden structure thermally isolated and super easy to insulate) creates the ideal Minergie-P compliant passive-house implementation.

passive house, switzerland

image via Diethelm & Spillmann

This thing is perfect! You have a totally self-contained wooden living compartment with optimum insulation, perched on an unheated concrete core, and the best part is they completely covered the roof with photovoltaic/solar thermal hardware capable of putting the structure over the threshold into energy-plus territory. The entire design evokes the classic architecture of the region and the house almost seems like the head of some eco-philosopher, looking out over the landscape, contemplating the freedom that is possible when the underlying interconnectedness of nature is understood by designers/architects/engineers. Clearly the Swiss deserve their reputation for being well-armed, with knowledge. For other instances of Passivhaus design, read Earthtechling’s article about Sonnenschiff Solar City, or the blog about another highly hospitable Swiss Passivhaus apartment building in Bern.