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Resurrected from the ruins

A dilapidated historic farmhouse has been transformed into an avant-garde architectural concept, with a house within a house

Words Alexander Hosch
Photography Euroboden

Where authenticity meets avant-garde in a natural architectural union, then it has to be Peter Haimerl. The architect who now lives in Munich grew up himself with farming and has already transformed many farmhouses into livable conceptual art using exposed concrete. Take for example his own award-winning weekend home Cilli in the Bavarian Forest, which was built in 2008. Or when Haimerl put the small town of Blaibach in the region of Oberpfalz on the architectural map of the 21st century in 2014 with a highly acclaimed concert hall made of granite and once again concrete.

Haimerl thus proved to be the right choice when it came to the spectacular rebirth of the oldest building in the centre of the Munich suburb of Riem – the Schuster farmhouse which was built around 1750. The client: Stefan Höglmaier, head of the real estate company Euroboden, which has worked with renowned architects, such as David Chipperfield, David Adjaye or Raumstation Architects, time and again on its residential projects.

Schuster farmhouse 2
An avant-garde concept was transformed into an imaginative reality in Schuster’s farmhouse in Munich

The two were guided by a seemingly simple idea when deciding on the future of the listed, run-down ensemble of farmhouse and adjoining barn in Alt-Riem: the house would be transformed into a rentable two-family home with each “half” measuring 150 square metres.

Ornaments, floorboards, proportions – Haimerl and Höglmaier salvaged whatever could be salvaged. Some of the coatings of paint from the past two centuries were left on the walls and joists. A not too regular, but also not too rough lime plaster – as was preferred in older times – was applied to the façades. The Madonna relief above the entrance door was restored. The original silver fir floors of the parlours were left untreated in some areas by way of example. New stairs, benches, doors and built-in furniture made of spruce wood were added.

Haimerl took on the necessary split with the utmost courage, creating a two-storey dwelling from the still intact structure, albeit with a fashionable concrete bathroom including light well and a “floating” reception hall with open fire and kitchen unit. With the blessing of the conservationists, the architect inserted a cube made of concrete, rotated by 45 degrees and invisible from the outside, into the roof area where no substance remained. This is now where the second dwelling resides, full of corners and edges.

Schuster farmhouse 3
An extraordinary project by two extraordinary designers: project developer Stefan Höglmaier and architect Peter Haimerl have helped the old house achieve a spectacular rebirth

Like an avant-garde space tamer, Haimerl experimented in the concrete block with radical prism shapes, creating a split-level living environment accentuated by light effects. There is no longer a sense of being in a farmhouse, rather the feeling is more reminiscent of a Depeche Mode concert stage. The stepped levels create an impression of space and a theatrical ambiance. The free-standing platform-like steel kitchen is what Haimerl terms a “Schwarzkuchl”, to give the impression of a dark cave, similar to the smokehouses that were traditionally located in front of farmhouses.

There is plenty of opportunity in this aged new building for pinching fingers or hitting heads. Haimerl is a type of constructional annalist who doesn’t like to hide the more forbidding aspects of rural life. Then again: anyone who can puzzle out such complex geometries could also be regarded as a visionary aesthete. The mottled and pasted needle felt on the wall is beautifully minimalistic – and unsurpassably practical besides for the acoustics and for protecting the slanted surfaces.

Yet there is also an inexorable link to the life of the farmer in this very modern living environment. “Our projects are also always a historical rendering of the subject matter”, says Haimerl. “We retrieve the lost history through songs, writings and art. That is very important to me.” A photo story created in the building shell using the embodiment of a horse and a small publication chronicle the story of the “Schuster farmers”. As the Demmel family only had around eight acres to farm back in 1830, they topped up their income as village cobblers. The last Demmel farmer owned a racing stable with 15 horses in 1968 following the expansion of Munich Riem Airport.

Schuster farmhouse

And yet another reminder. While there isn’t a lot of space around the house, there is a “threshing garden” behind the former hay barn in addition to the entrance area with concrete slabs and some grass. Two small pear trees grow here now, as symbols of the Schuster farmer and his wife.

And finally, Haimerl has also managed to solve a personal issue for him. “It has often bothered me why new owners immediately erect a fence around old farmhouses”, he says as he glances impishly into the early autumn sun. Any why? “Because it’s not fencing that should be found in front of a genuine old-Bavarian farm, rather a dung heap! Always.”

As the son of a farmer, Haimerl naturally knows this all too well. And because he is also as much at home in contemporary architecture as he is in a farmhouse, he is now about to show us his brand new high-tech dung heap in front of the newly reconstructed Alt-Riem farm. A large “box of wonder” that unfolds in front of the entrance. It acts as a storage location for waste bins as well as for bicycles and gardening equipment and also as a “summerhouse” with retractable roof. In addition, the unpretentious and elegant wooden box acts as a practical shield for the property from overly curious on-lookers. In exactly the same way as the dung heap did formerly .

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