When shopping for a new home, “former army barracks” probably isn’t on your list of desired features. The phrase evokes images of long, dim, echoing corridors filled with steel bunk beds and easily wipeable surfaces — not to mention the sort of low-cost utilitarian aesthetic for which militaries are known. Leave it to some of the world’s most talented architects to take a 1930s brick shed in Salzburg, Austria and transform it into a jaw-dropping work of art full of sensuous, sculptural curves and breezy open spaces.
Vienna-based architectural studio Smartvoll peered into an empty industrial building that once housed soldiers and a tank station and saw something wholly unexpected. Within this simple oblong building, with its weathered bricks and hard concrete floors recalling decades long past, the architects envisioned a futuristic open-plan loft. They submitted their proposal to an international contest that called for an adaptation of the space into a luxurious residence within the larger Panzerhalle complex and won, and it’s not hard to see why.
At the epicenter of the new space is a minimalist kitchen contained within a 23-foot-long block, which itself is flanked by a pair of sweeping concrete staircases. Made of black lava stone, this monumental cabinet features a planting area for herbs and individual spaces for food preparation, cooking, and dining. A table pulls out of one end on demand. Above it soar the wing-like platforms of the gallery level, which follow the contours of the building and offer access to more private spaces.
The dramatic staircases split off in three directions. Smartvoll explains that they shouldn’t be seen as merely functional ways of accessing various levels of the home, but rather “as an electric spatial experience.”
“The stairs are an architecture within the architecture,” they continue. “Concreted in-house, the engineering is being exhausted in all respects. Tender objects with minimal dimensions but tremendous spatial impact. Something that does not allow for competition: besides the concrete, only subtle, semi-transparent materials are being used, such as Profilit to separate the guest area and curtains for the bedroom…Every other piece of furniture seems to be integrated into the construction. An unalterable picture [that] celebrates only free space.”
Everything about the loft seems to float. The staircase hovers above the kitchen, creating a lightweight roof that belies its own solidity. The curtains that delineate the bedrooms waft in the breeze. A bookcase comes out of the brick wall near the back of the home and hangs down into the ground floor below. Even the shower feels weightless, having been projected into the main space as an open glass box. Nothing about the Loft Panzerhalle is meant for the shy and reserved. Its boldness is what sets it apart from top to bottom.
“At the lower level, the room is connected to two balconies. However, even this façade aligns itself with the carriers of the concrete sculpture in the slant; the balconies look like additional alcoves of the overall concept. They feature a contemplative zen garden, including a grassy knoll, a jasmine tree, and a classic [relaxation] terrace.”
These outdoor spaces offer views of the rest of the Panzerhalle complex, including a market space that was also renovated by Smartvoll and several restaurants, salons, event spaces, and a co-working facility, all of which are unified by their buildings’ original brick facades.