The stackable SYSTEM3, by Austrian architects Oscar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf [olkruf.com], boasts the elongated shape of a shipping container. Inside, its austere bearing gives way to a more luxurious simplicity, thanks to amenities like an elegantly spare dining set, luxe Gaggenau appliances, and circular windows that create intriguing light effects. The design takes advantage of existing prefab technologies like CNC milling, which allows an incredible level of accuracy and customization, too; clients can choose the position, shape, and size of every window. Firm architect Jochen Specht took a break from blogging on MoMA’s exhibition journal to answer a few of our most pressing questions.
Was CNC milling part of the concept from the outset?
Our design was determined by the possibilities of the milling process. That’s why we do not have windows that extend to the floor or the ceiling—otherwise a wall element would not be stable enough to be craned. Furthermore, as you may have noticed, the windows’ corners are round; this is due to the size of the milling head—you can’t mill sharp corners. More after the jump.
How did you choose spruce as the primary material? It had a gorgeous pinky undertone that worked nicely against the architecture’s rigorous lines.
Spruce is not too expensive, not too hard, and easy to process. On all outside surfaces, including the roof, we used a marine coating, which protects against weather and yet is diffusion permeable—similar to a Gore-tex jacket. Inside, we used one layer of oil to protect the wood and make it easier to clean. These treatments, which we would have done anyway, were, fortunately, O.K. for U.S. customs. In addition, they wanted us to treat the wooden parts that protected the house inside the shipping container with a special smoke to eliminate all vermin.
What was the most harrowing moment with respect to fabrication, assembly, or shipping?
Thanks to prefabrication, the most exciting moments are always when the parts arrive, either in the factory or on site, and you are all on edge whether everything fits together or not. And, since it is a prototype but also the final product, you usually only have one try, since it is too expensive—or too late—to produce the parts again.
I’m intrigued that the windows can be customized on each project. Were the portal windows here a nod to Jean Prouvé, perchance?
The round windows are easy to mill, and illustrate that the wall is a massive element—i.e. no post and beam structure—and the perforated walls screen private areas, like the bed, from view. And we just love the light and shadow atmosphere of the interior space. But if you want to read it as a kowtow to Prouvé, we will not protest.