On approaching MVRDV’s Balancing Barn a seemingly child-rendered elevation of ‘house’ as a triangle atop a square suggests a simple residence ready to welcome a crowd of perhaps two holidaymakers to this Suffolk countryside location. Yet, unsurprisingly from the Dutch firm of architects, whose previous projects include the top-heavy geometry of the WoZoCo apartments for the elderly and designs for a skyscraper for pigs, a further peek and the building delivers its punch line. In three dimensions Balancing Barn reveals itself to be in precarious relation to both its site and first appearances. Shunted over an elevated grassy bank, the building commits a balancing act that sees half of the building’s 30-metre length, which can comfortably accommodate up to eight people, linger in mid-air. The motion of a solitary playground swing that dangles from the building’s suspended underside seems to threaten to pull the whole teetering thing headlong into the bucolic fields below.
Inside, wall hangings sample the works of John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, who painted the local countryside throughout their lives, and the glass ceiling and floor in the cantilevered living room aim to create a feeling of being suspended above the natural surroundings. The polished stainless steel cladding of Balancing Barn’s exterior reflects the surrounding landscape. As the area, which is managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, returns to meadows it is intended that the house will ‘dissolve’ into its setting. On awarding MVRDV a RIBA award earlier this year for Balancing Barn the judges commented on the building’s “unusual ability” to “evoke such powerful feelings of obscure but pleasurable unease”.
The Balancing Barn was designed by MVRDV with structural engineers Jane Wernick Associates. The house was commissioned by Alain De Botton as part of the Living Architecture project which aims to “shift perceptions of modern architecture”. Where most people’s experience of modern architecture may be fleeting; the museum, the airport, the office, Living Architecture intends to “allow people to experience what it is like to live, eat, and sleep in a space designed by an outstanding architectural practice”.
Image: MVRDV, The Balancing Barn, 2010. Interiors by Studio Makkink & Bey. Courtesy of Living Architecture
Text by Danielle Hewitt