An Architect’s Elevated Family Home Channels Mies van der Rohe on a German Lakefront

With a heavy dose of inspiration from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, architect Carlos Zwick designs an art-filled home on stilts for his family of eight in Potsdam, Germany.
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In the late 19th-century, the Parkrestaurant Nedlitz was a popular excursion destination in Potsdam, Germany, that boasted a boat dock, terraced garden cafe, and ballroom. While the spot remained a frequented weekend retreat through the Cold War, it had fallen into complete neglect by the time architect Carlos Zwick, founder of the eponymous Berlin-based firm, purchased the lot in 2014.  

In addition to overgrown brambles and crumbling buildings, the site came with strict guidelines for renovation. The original terraced steps near the waterfront had to be preserved; the existing forest of large maple, oak, and chestnut trees couldn’t be removed; and the view of Lake Jungfernsee from the main road had to remain clear. Despite its challenges, the architect thought the property was a perfect place to build a home for himself, his partner, Claudia Kensy, and the couple’s six children, thanks to its wide plot, pristine view, and lake access, as well as the easy drive to Berlin.

Carlos approached the Potsdam Design Council with building proposal after building proposal until he finally received approval for a drawing that hoisted two large, box-like pavilions into the trees, allowing for minimal impact on the landscape and preserving sight lines to the waterfront from the road. The home floats 10 feet aboveground on inverted tripod bases with reddish-brown steel posts that branch upward, mimicking the trees around them.

"Haus am See is a modern interpretation of a tree house," says the architect. "Like a wooden nest, it nestles between the crowns of the old oaks and chestnuts."  Carlos saw the "ancient and dense" tree population as both a challenge and a creative boon. Indeed, the home’s two pavilions are so intertwined with the trees that one of the site’s enormous maples is bracketed within the windowed walls of the living room. The team also covered the roof in greenery and installed a solar thermal system to further integrate the home with its environment.

The building itself has a Miesian look that Carlos describes as "a rational and calm language of forms," featuring clean, horizontal lines and a cantilevered porch that stretches across the 72-foot waterfront facade. The understated simplicity of the structure belies its grand size: at roughly 7,664 square feet, the home offers plenty of room for the family of eight and their three dogs. 

The main pavilion, which runs parallel to the lake shore, includes the kitchen, dining, living areas, and the principal suite, while the twin pavilion, set at a right angle reaching back toward the road, contains the children’s rooms. A small, common entrance with stairs and an elevator links the two wings, for now: Carlos points out that the distinction between the structures would allow for flexible, multi-unit usage in the future. 

The steel supports leave plenty of protected space under the pavilions for an "open-air basement," as Carlos calls it. "There is room for everything," says the architect—including cars, bikes, and table tennis, as well as a hot tub, sauna, and firewood storage. 

Down the steps from the open basement, the waterfront holds what Carlos calls "a magical attraction." The family keeps canoes, stand-up paddle boards, and an old sailboat ready to go. The original 19th-century stone terraces that lead down to the water were carefully maintained.

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While the stilts lift the home up and away from the lake, the view from inside feels very immersive, with the water seeming to lap at the edge of the balcony. The architect framed the lake-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows with pale wood beams and used glazing on the balcony to keep the view as open as possible.

Meanwhile, the interior is spare but warm, and feels appropriate for a family with six children and three pets. Accent walls of yellow or green and bright, oversize art provide hints of color, while prominent dog beds, dangling wire lamps, and an unconcealed refrigerator contribute to the casual, welcoming vibe.

The home offers plenty of places for the family to relax together, from the spacious living room to the music nook. Carlos says they especially love to congregate in front of the large fireplace with the dogs, or around the 25-foot-long olive wood table in the open-plan kitchen and dining area.

The exuberant paintings throughout the home have been collected over the years, with some even painted by Claudia. "Art is a great passion in our family," Carlos says, noting how much Claudia enjoys working in her studio with a view of the trees.

The original Parkrestaurant Nedlitz currently sits on the other half of the property, and Carlos is converting the old buildings into a new restaurant. The historic buildings can be seen from the kitchen’s side window, providing a nice stylistic contrast to Haus am See.


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