Potsdam’s history is intertwined with war and administration. It was there, in the former capital of the German Empire, that Kaiser Wilhelm II signed a declaration of war in 1914 and that Churchill, Stalin and Truman carved up Europe at the end of the Second World War. The Krampnitz Kaserne, just outside the city, has become a contemporary embodiment of this legacy.
While the likes of Brad Pitt and Jude Law re-enacted battle scenes for Hollywood blockbusters at the old East German cantonments, local politicians and housing magnates were locked in a legal fight for deeds to the land that Law’s jackboots stood on. Unfortunately, while players in the courtroom made tons of money as the juridical skirmish continued, the area under discussion fell further into disrepair and a host of glamorous villas sprang up around it. When planning permission was given for the construction of three houses on the site of an underwear factory, a team of architects – Brandlhuber+ Emde, Schneider – set out to realize an ‘antivilla’ by converting one industrial building into a house and, in so doing, rejecting the nouveau-riche glamour of villas that were taking over the neighbourhood.
With a nod to Rachel Whiteread’s iconic House, the architects made the original building a defiant espousal of concrete chic. It is inside, however, that things get really interesting. It’s not often that St-W has the chance to get hot and steamy about heating systems, but this corner of Potsdam warms our proverbial cockles, because the new core of the building features a sauna that heats the entire house.
It’s part of an innovative insulation system that uses PVC curtains to divide the space into temperature zones. The farther away from the sauna a zone is, the cooler it is. The scheme reaches its peak in the winter, when Antivilla’s sole habitable zones are those adjacent to the sauna. It’s only when the exterior temperature rises that the whole house is warm enough for lazing around in your pyjamas or enjoying the view from the edgy windows that have been smashed out of the walls. Antivilla might not be the ultimate user-friendly living environment, but it certainly provokes thought – and gets bloody hot in July and August.