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Solution of the Month

Kram it in: Villa Kram redefines the two-family house to include party walls—as well as ceilings and floors.

March 2011

By David Sokol

The American Dream is alive and well in Denmark, where owning a freestanding suburban home is a compelling goal. Witness Glostrup, a 20,000-person community located west of Copenhagen. In many respects it resembles the typical Danish suburb, where single-family residences ringed by hedges are the norm, and which encourages automobile use, says Pelle Brydegård Sørensen, founder of the Danish architecture firm Manifold.

Villa Kram
Photo © Infusion
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Glostrup’s zoning does not allow a greener, alternative model of suburban housing, because the municipality limits most residential development to single-family properties at a maximum of 2,150 square feet. Yet in a merciful exception, in 2004 local officials gave the go-ahead to a project located in a heavily wooded part of town known as Hvissinge East. The subdivision design, the result of a competition, reduced lot sizes to approximately 3,200 square feet and surrounded those lots with semi-public forest. To encourage progressive thinking in the design of Hvissinge East houses themselves, Glostrup bent its rules on building type and size.

One product of that area allotment is Villa Kram, also known as Hug House. The 4,800-square-foot building not only introduces two-family housing to Glostrup, but also rethinks the typical approach to pairing homes. Designed by Sørensen and his wife Natallia Boika Sørensen, principal of the architecture studio Infusion, for themselves and a neighbor, Villa Kram features a unique “twist”: In section and plan the two units spiral up three stories, wrapping a central glass-roofed atrium. “The twist makes it possible to provide variety to all users—the light and sun from all four directions, the contact to ground surface, the experience of being in the crown of the trees and the view to the sky on roof terraces, and the easy access to the basement.” More usual side-by-side or upstairs-downstairs configurations could have achieved some, but not all, of those experiential qualities.

To express the twist in the facade, Infusion and Manifold effectively created two of them, finishing one unit’s exterior in cedar shingle and the other’s in charcoal-colored plaster. The northern elevations of both units feature large windows that look onto virgin forest.

In addition to pursuing a housing type that is more energy-efficient, the architects included several sustainability strategies in Villa Kram. The structure comprises a system of concrete-filled polystyrene modules akin to SIPs, as well as triple-glazed windows. In addition, radiant floors operate by an air-to-water heat pump, and a heat recovery ventilator mitigates interior climate. Finally, Villa Kram is entirely electric, and the rooftop was planned with a future photovoltaic installation in mind.

Infusion and Manifold put another American institution to work in Villa Kram, and that is keeping up with the Joneses. Besides using the atrium to introduce daylight to the deepest folds of their hug, the Sørensens placed the heat-pump and -recovery equipment there. Corresponding energy monitors are out in the open for all to see, and now architect and client are engaging in a friendly contest in reducing energy consumption. Current energy models forecast a 50 percent improvement over the performance of comparable single-family houses.

Both families keep things sporting, because they also have a laundry room and bicycle garage to share. So when they opened their homes to participants in the UN Climate Change conference 2009, visitors witnessed a model for living that was as collegial as it was sustainable. Perhaps those foreign dignitaries are importing this adapted version of the American Dream to their home countries, too. 

 

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