Stable in the Landscape

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By Sandra Henderson / Published by Alpine Modern
Austrian architect Thomas Lechner reduces the idea of vernacular alpine architecture to a design so consequentially essential in what is left that his minimalist structures become sophisticated and sexy.

The Hochleitner house in Embach is no exception. The project’s objective was notably elemental: The client wanted a house for himself and his books; a building void of any status. "To realize this vision, we referenced the surrounding area’s simple Heustadln (hay barns) and conceived an honest wooden structure," says Lechner, co-founder and principal at LP Architektur.

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A modern mountain man of tradition 

"The mountains mean a tremendous deal to me because they astonish me time and again, demand my respect, and give me a lot of energy."

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Architect Tom Lechner

Lechner was Born in Altenmarkt in Austria’s Pongau region in 1970. After earning his architecture degree from the Technical University Graz and practicing at several firms in Salzburg and Berlin, he returned to his native alpine town to open his own atelier. 

When I ask who is his idol in the architecture and design world, Lechner, whose firm is nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award 2017, replies there is no reason to apotheosize anyone or anything—"But you can regard fellows in your field and their accomplishments with respect and joy." 

The architect is happiest when he is able to be self-aware and live in the present moment. "That’s the honest life—it feels good," he says. 

The surrounding peaks profoundly inspire Lechner as a man and architect: "The mountains mean a tremendous deal to me because they astonish me time and again, demand my respect, and give me a lot of energy," he says. "They relativize much of everyday life to what is essential." 

The Hochleitner house 

Extracting what is essential also drove his design of the Hochleitner house. Completed in 2016, the 105-square-meter (1130-sqare-foot) primary residence is set in a meadow that borders a neighborhood to the north but is largely undeveloped to the south.

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"The site is somewhat exposed in the landscape and requires sensibility," Lechner says. "The architecture refers to the surrounding landscape by referencing local vernacular building tradition—a wood construction with a weathered facade, pitched roof, etc."

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Looking back at the project, the architect is proud of how the house innately adapts to its bucolic setting, and that no secondary structures, such as a carport, obscure the architecture or unnecessarily bring the form into question.

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House Tour

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The primary building material is wood, which was used in the construction and for all surfaces on the inside. "A central stairway and varying floor levels divide a sequences of spaces—rooms that flow into one another," Lechner describes. "This creates living zones of different qualities and internal and external contexts reduced to the essential in their formulation. All furniture and storage areas are wall elements, and the central focus is reserved for the book collection."

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The project’s biggest challenge, reveals the architect, was "the proverbial tightrope walk between reduction and banality—to continually look at the challenges of construction and functionality in reference to the targeted solution, which was to model the functional architecture of the regions farmsteads." 

"[A] proverbial tightrope walk between reduction and banality." 

Lechner mastered the balancing act. The house won him the Best Architects Award 2017.

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"Perhaps there is such as thing as an ‘energy’ that brings together certain people for certain tasks," the architect notes about the design process and close collaboration with the client. "This project represents an approach where architecture is not defined through a creative will but instead through a relevant response to the place and the purpose—a simple wooden house, no more yet no less." △

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"This project represents an approach where architecture is not defined through a creative will but instead through a relevant response to the place and the purpose—a simple wooden house, no more yet no less."