Mr. Barrett’s House

Daniel Zamarbide (BUREAU)
9. Oktober 2019
Photo: Dylan Perrenoud

BUREAU has converted an old garage building near Geneva into a contemporary house for an imaginary client – Mr. Barrett. Architect Daniel Zamarbide is answering our questions.

Project Name Mr. Barrett’s House
Location Genthod, Geneva
Architect BUREAU: Project leader: Daniel Zamarbide, Team: Carine Pimenta, Francisco Castelo Branco, João Paixão, Vanessa Pointet, Robinson Mangematin
Building Area 70 m2
Completion 2019
Consultants Structural Engineer: INGENI | Landscape Architect: BUREAU
Fotographer Dylan Perrenoud
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

Mr. Barrett’s House is part of a series of interventions we developed on a private property near Geneva on private commission.

Photo: Dylan Perrenoud
Please provide an overview of the project.

The process Mr. Barrett’s House has undergone could be named “internal architecture”: Everything has been developed starting with the interior. To us, this was inevitable, since we wanted to design spaces of intimacy, places where the privacy and the interaction and complexity of human relations appear in their least public environment. It is thus about interiority. And the project literally took these criteria as a starting point for the development of its conception and construction.

An old garage building – being split into a basement where to park the car and a small apartment on the first floor – has been completely cored. The upper wooden chalet was lifted entirely, placed aside and then reinforced, re-structured. Only after this operation was performed successfully, it was put back on the basement. The two floors now are spatially linked through a series of relatively complex sections creating richness of perception and a feeling of space within the small volume. 

A new wooden (birch wood) all-over atmosphere was “injected” into the volume. Spatial connections are favored, enhanced, but in a subtle way. The house was intended to be a dynamic actor for future inhabitants.

Photo: Dylan Perrenoud

As it was not built for a specific user, a fictional character was named to inhabit the project: Mr. Barrett. He is the protagonist of Joseph Losey’s complex movie “The Servant”. In the scenario (written by Harold Pinter) the house is the arena where a series of very complex and intimate relations appears. The interior spaces are constantly utilized as stages for relational dynamics. Mirrors and multiple points-of-view are shown in the movie; the apartment is playing a major role in the development of the drama. In our case, there is no drama but a potential occupation of the small space that serves as a plot for a “real-life movie”. 

The interior is approached with care and delicacy, especially as the important details of such an intricate space are concerned. Among other features, the ladder inside one of the rooms upstairs is to be read as a direct reference to Aby Warburg’s study of the Hoppi Indians.

Photo: Dylan Perrenoud
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

There are three: First, an interesting idea, directly borrowed from the medical world, would be to call ourselves internists in this sort of surgical intervention. Everything has, as I already mentioned, been developed from the inside. 

On the other hand, there is a richness of perception and a feeling of space within the small volume. We develop a majority of our domestic projects focussing on space making, the creation of voids where the inhabitants can experience the bodily feeling of projecting one’s perception into space. Our goal is to create interiority, richness, perceptive experiences that can simply enrich the inhabitation experience. 

And finally, the palimpsestic character the building was completely assumed. This was one of the reasons for us to create round holes in the façade. They affirm their contemporaneity which will disappear over time and become part of the vernacular nature of the building. It is an ever-changing process. 

Photo: Dylan Perrenoud
Were there any significant challenges that arose during the project? If so, how did you respond to them?

A significant challenge to the realization of Mr. Barrett’s House was the lifting of the existing wooden chalet. The process required a lot of preparation. The top part was lifted and moved in order to make the demolition of the existing basement and the construction of a new one made out of concrete possible.

How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?

Relating to current trends is not really our preoccupation. Probably saying our projects relate to contemporary issues would be more accurate. The design of Mr. Barrett’s house provided us with the chance to explore the possibilities of small-scale architecture and to aim for spatial qualities and complex perceptive situations within domestic spaces.

Photo: Dylan Perrenoud
Site plan
Ground floor
First floor

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