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Balancing Act

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Generic hotel rooms and boring break- fast buffets don’t make for the most rejuvenating vacations. Sweeping, scenic surroundings and eye-popping, imaginative accommodations, on the other hand? Now that’s a holiday.

Dutch firm MVRDV, in collaboration with Mole Architects, had that in mind when they dreamed up a one-of-a-kind vacation destination in Suffolk, England. The Balancing Barn, as they dubbed the unexpected structure perched on a rural English hilltop, came about as a project for Living Architecture, a social enterprise dedicated to creating architecturally striking modern holiday rental properties. “The idea was to reclaim the countryside by creating an outstanding modern home that would engage its surroundings in a beneficial dialogue,” says Mole project architect Ian Bramwell. 

That dialogue turned out to be a decidedly unique one. With gleaming steel exteriors reflecting the natural setting, a playful juxtaposition of modern and rustic styles, and innovative engineering that sets half the house floating perilously over the slope of the hilltop, the design more than met Living Architecture’s not-for-profit goal of promoting inspired modern architecture. To achieve the daring design, the architects worked with Jane Wernick Associates to calculate how much vibration the building could take (“slightly more than in an office but much less than in a bridge”) considering its unusual 50-foot cantilever. 

Ecological considerations also came into play as the property sits on the edge of a nature reserve. “An extensive ecological mitigation program was undertaken, with slow worms, grass snakes, newts, and bats all requiring temporary re-homing,” Bramwell says. Non-native trees and plants were removed and native tree species were replanted to attract wildlife and recreate extensive meadow areas in the landscape. 

Even with all of the house’s statement-making features, though, Bramwell says one original detail stands out above the rest: “The addition of the swing to the underside of the cantilever has to be the best detail,” she says. “It brings the cantilever into focus and is a witty take on the playful nature of the building.” 

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