The modernist preoccupation with how the home communicates with its context is typically aimed at conveying man’s affinity with nature, with the modernist homes represented most often, including on this site, usually displaying a modest interplay between the home and its surroundings.
Likewise, the mass-built, distinctly mid-century homes of Joseph Eichler display, as a matter of course, the simple message of nature’s value. In these cases, this is particularly evident in their emphasis on the outdoors and the importance of communing with the people in the neighbourhood.
Throughout the coverage, nature appears as a friend of the modernist house. So it is quite a refreshing change to stumble upon one of Richard Neutra’ lesser known European projects: the Bucerius House. In the Bucerius House, nature is a terrifying and awe-inspiring prospect, something to be humbled by but not something to be trifled with.
Situated in the Brione sopra Minusio municipality in the Locarno district of Swizerland, the house was built for Gerd Bucerius, one of the founders of the German newspaper Die Zeit, and his wife. The initial plans for the house were lost in a fire in Neutra’s LA office in 1964 but it was eventually completed in 1966 at the considerable cost of 4 million Swiss Francs (over three million Euro). It was one of only four houses Neutra built in Switzerland.
SEE MORE: 5 Stunning Richard Neutra’s Houses
Beginning its coverage of the house, Barbara Lamprecht (author of “Neutra – Complete Works“) claims “Some of Neutra’s most compelling houses are in Europe.” The Bucerius House is certainly among them. Nestled in a hilltop, overlooking the Lake Maggiore 2,000 feet below, the views are spectacular. Yet despite the home’s proximity to the nearby medieval town of Ascona, the steep mountain slope rising from across the other side of the lake gives a clear sense of isolation.
In this context, the house indulges in several features which give nature the upper hand. There are no balconies at the edge of the heated terraces, thereby allowing an entirely unimpeded view of the scenery. In their place, Neutra inserted “water guards”, wide, shallow, linear strips of water at the edges of the terrace, a feature which only increased the already close contact with the outdoors by bringing the sky closer to the view.
The Bucerius House does, however, display some of the obvious cues of Neutra’s other modernist houses. A series of reflecting pools allow the indoors to extend well into the outdoor environment, even in winter, and are reminiscent of Neutra’s later projects, such as the Lovell Heath House (although arguably more sophisticated in terms of execution).
Moreover, with a substantial budget at his disposal, Neutra’s design spares no expense in the details, with, for instance, minutely thin slats of highly varnished tongue-and-groove wood covering the living room ceiling. According to Lamprecht “so narrow and refined that it becomes a slick monolithic plane above the beams”.
Even so, by enhancing the disparity between the solitary house and the powerful surroundings it is difficult to avoid the assumption that Neutra intended a somewhat different interaction between the occupants of the Ebelin Bucerius House and its surrounding landscape than his later designs.
Photo by Mark Haddawy