H House in Maastricht, Netherlands by Wiel Arets Architects, 2009
Maastricht is home to what must still be architect Wiel Arets's most well known building, the Academy of Art and Architecture, completed early in his career in 1993. Featuring an "alabaster skin" of glass block, the building (really two, linked by a bridge) established Arets as a subtle manipulator of glass, concrete, and light. The simple palette and geometry were belied by the complex play of light through the glass blocks. During the day the studios were illuminated, and at night the building glowed like a lantern.
Over fifteen years later and about 3km away, the H House hardly resembles the Academy of Art and Architecture. The house angles and tapers in plan instead of sticking to the orthogonal; it is covered entirely in flat glass, not glass block; no structure, concrete or otherwise, is visible from the exterior. Yet setting these formal dissimilarities aside, the house can be seen as a continuation of the architect's exploration of glass, especially its effects with regards to light. The house also relates to the school in the way concrete is used structurally, even if it is hidden from passersby. Ultimately it is wed to the older project in that each creates architecture with only two materials.
The combination of transparent and opaque glass, as well as the sliding and fixed portions of the façade, create a number of different possible responses to the changing of seasons and patterns of daylight. -Wiel Arets ArchitectsH House was designed for a couple, an actor and a dancer who both happen to be landscape architects. Since the house meets the street like the older buildings down the street, a garden was created behind the house. The formal garden is used as a setting for the clients to "keep their landscaping skills honed." It is also used as a focus for the clear glass portions of the wrapping facade; more opaque glass is found at the front of the house, giving way to clear glass towards the garden. Privacy in the clear glass areas is provided via interior curtains, but the house potentially expresses the composition of public/private in the way light glows from inside to outside; inversely the house lets is light and views only where desired.
When looked at in terms of the two types of glass and their interaction with the context, the kinks in the house's plan seem related to ideas of privacy and view. The pinch in the plan seems to guarantee a bit more privacy from the street, henceforth increasing the size of the rooms at the rear of the house. Two one-story volumes protrude from the two-story house: the entrance (hidden behind a sinuously bending wall) and a cantilevered bathroom. This form certainly necessitated the plasticity of concrete for the structure; irregular slabs intersect with a more regular but still idiosyncratic grid of columns. A few kilometers away concrete and glass were joined in a rational grid, but here they give each other some space to let each material do what it needs to do.