Hidden in plain sight


A new private residence overlooking a valley in the Czech Republic offers a seamless blend of expansive sight lines and privacy, but also a design that subtly disguises itself in its hilly site. Jack Wooler spoke to project architect Petr Janda

Through close collaboration, a project to design a ‘porous’ private residence overlooking the Zlín Valley in the south west of the Czech Republic evolved from a basic brief of a family living space, to being an “open part of its context,” with its interior volumes continuing into the garden, and the surrounding urban area.

Developed between 2006 and 2020, the steeply sloping 1400 m2 plot offered both challenges and opportunities. The team utilised the gradient to enable a potentially multi-generational arrangement with a guest section dug into the hill, and a main living area above.

While visually contrasted with the local vernacular, Lazy House’s Prague-based architects petrjanda/brainwork utilised principles of aircraft camouflage to blend the project into the landscape. The design maintains privacy due to its unconventional layout, which rotates the square floorplan to avoid sensitive rooms facing towards the valley, while retaining daylighting, and using strategic planting.

During the scheme design, the practice worked on all design aspects of the property, from bespoke detailing throughout to the “carefully curated” exterior, which includes a pool and wine cellar. According to practice owner and MD Petr Janda, this fine tuning led to a “comprehensive partnership,” and the creation of an “authentic design.”

The ‘Lazy’ plot
The practice was first approached by the original investor, with whom Janda has had a “long-term, friendly relationship,” he tells ADF.

Later in the process, the plot changed hands, but this new client reportedly proved just as collaborative, allowing “the completion of the house in a form that further developed the original concept in many layers.”

The site itself is part of a new urban district of Zlín, created by the conversion of former allotment gardens into residential development, with the land divided into six plots, and connected to the existing urban infrastructure by a new road.

Lazy House’s plot resides on the highest part of this district, underneath the nearby forest. The house’s inverse orientation offers an “excellent view, year-round,” according to its architect, with sightlines both to the woodlands and Zlín’s residential area, sitting below the site.

The site’s topology is analogous to that of Mediterranean villas or the hills of Los Angeles, however according to Janda, the distinctiveness of this location was a strong inspiration. The practice intended Lazy House to encompass the “essential archetype of a house that benefits from the uniqueness of its location.”

Entering the plot from a gate at the front of the property, visitors are first presented with a paved driveway, above which is the house’s glazed front facade.

The architects describe the form as a “compact solitaire on a square floor plan, with a slightly rotated layout.” The exterior follows the “contour logic”of its surroundings, while the interior “turns towards the long sightlines towards the city centre and beyond.”

Appearing as a single storey house from the rear, the lower floor of the house is sunk into the hillside, the wall with the garage door being perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the site. The first floor above this is prism-shaped, and is cantilevered above the house’s frontage.

The main ‘first floor’ living floor is visually connected to the sky through its mirrored moiré facades, and appears to ‘levitate’ on its corten base, set into the slope. The metal exterior is then balanced with the soft timber-lined interior visible through the envelope, with colourful accents of cast light that blend together during the evening.

The house is covered with a green roof, which Janda says “returns the missing part of the garden cut off by the house’s footprint,” and also offers a fully glazed roof studio in its centre. From above, the green roof “merges with the garden city,” leaving the plot appearing almost untouched – in a move inspired by aviation facility design.

Internal layout
Visitors enter through the ground floor two-car garage on either side. From there, there is dedicated access to the main living floor and a separate entrance to the guest apartment that can be used for visiting grandparents, teenagers or others.

Entering the guest apartment, the space is designed as an open layout, centred on the social part, with a kitchen, dining and living room attached to a bedroom with its own walk-in-wardrobe, bathroom and toilet. The apartment also has its own terrace, with a separate garden.

Heading back into the garage, and moving up towards the main living area, a single flight staircase ascends to a view of the garden, and into the central social zone. This is a communal space with a kitchen, dining room and living room, running across a large part of the house’s footprint.

Based around this zone are the ‘quiet’ areas, all accessible from the central hub, with the parts for parents and children separated. These quiet rooms are in corner positions around the perimeter of the layout so that they all benefit from either the view of the city or from contact with the garden.

One such quiet area is the ‘parents’ zone,’ which consists of a bedroom connected by a walk-in wardrobe and a ‘secret’ door to its own bathroom. The children’s zone on the other hand has two bedrooms with a bathroom and toilet between them. There is also a glazed study with bookshelves, a terrace with an indoor garden, and a pantry integrated into the kitchen.

The building has a monolithic, reinforced concrete structure with high-performance insulation. This is then clad with materials that the architect says “naturally support the composition of the house,” with a fully glazed north and south facade with large format ‘metallised’ triple glazing, and the neighbour-facing facades made of stainless steel.

The lower floor, including the garage door, is faced with pre-weathered corten steel sheets, which is intended to reflect the earthy tones of the garden and the entrance gate.

The “silky” surface of the stainless-steel elements are intended to complement the reflections of the extensive glazing, which contrasts with the more natural, wooden interior. This consists of large elm veneer facing on the walls, built-in furniture and solid Iroko floors, and corten sheets.

According to Janda, the overall impression is intended to be that of a “continuous flow of space” throughout the interior, “culminating in the individual layout epicentres, using glazed elements to add rhythm to the surface of the walls by the reflection of light.”

In order to “give this materiality depth,” the architects specified a high level of detailing, including that individual elements such as the wall sheets be laid out in a non-repeating way, and that there be seamless connections on all edges and parts. In addition, the detailing on the floor and terrace boards should be directed in the same flow of the house and its envelope, and there would be “careful tension between the natural and modulated light.”

When making these material choices, the architects closely considered environmental impacts – using glass and steel produced using environmentally friendly, recyclable methods, and employing mostly local wood (or certified tropical wood that is planted, not logged, in nearby forests.)

A ‘living being’
Janda explains that the practice was keen to place emphasis on “connecting the house’s architectural and spatial qualities with the currently available technological principles,” and as such it has been specified to be a low-energy dwelling. Along with the sloping terrain, this reportedly led to the name ‘Lazy House.’

The architect uses biophilic principles to describe the design’s holistic sustainability approach, saying it “fuses with the context in both close and remote symbiosis.”

Pursuing the analogy of the house as a body, he describes its insulation as the building’s “muscles,” heating as “blood circulation,” ventilation system as “lungs and trachea,” water distribution and sewage as “a digestive system,” wiring as its “nervous system,” and so on.

In more prosaic terms, the building has whole-house controlled ventilation with heat recovery, combined with underfloor heating connected to a heat pump from two earth boreholes located under the slab – with ‘reverse operation’ used for cooling in the summer. The exterior air conditioning inlet comes into the space next to the cellar at a depth that avoids risk of freezing, which enables the air to be heated before it is recovered.

Ventilation is distributed from the plant room which is located next to the garage, and in the floor structures towards the exhaust outlets into the plenum boxes. Vents are in the form of “almost invisible” slits in the edges where the floors meet the floor-to-ceiling windows. The recirculation then works through the inlets in the bathroom ceilings and the slits between the ceiling and veneer panels.

The garden hill
The practice’s design influence stretches past the house’s four walls. Around the dedicated stone pathways towards the back of the plot a wine cellar is buried, and there’s a swimming pool with a covered ‘grotto’ terrace in timber.

The curved form of the grotto is the dominant feature of the garden, composed of graduated, rotated larch planks. This doubled as formwork for a hidden reinforced concrete shell sunk in the terrain and joining the grotto, creating a “cave” cut into the slope.

The pool is constructed of stainless steel, and utilises an edge overflow with a gutter, copying the slope of the adjoining terrain and creating an endless surface effect. The pool cover is hidden under a bench made of stainless steel rods immersed in the pool.

On the other side of the hill, the wine cellar is an adaptation of the original brick vaulted cellar (a relic of the original allotment on the site), and equipped with interior steel waxed shelves for bottle storage. The cellar’s roof is covered with Irish moss, growing through reinforcing slate structures that copies the smooth shape of the hill.

The garden then flows around these elements as a “smooth carpet,” creating hidden bays protected from the outside that allow for panoramic views over the city, with vegetation protecting the site boundaries.

Privacy is further maintained by tall bamboo plants and grasses “organically connected” to the undulating terrain, complemented by several solitary woody plants selected due to their changing appearance during the year. The garden is also irrigated by the subsurface groundwater, and from a drilled well and a reservoir hidden in the space above the grotto.

According to Janda, the practice’s main focus throughout the project was “interconnecting physical and metaphysical layers of the project, resonating form and content, and engaging sculptural methods with the concept.”

Is perhaps in this that Lazy House’s success is best realised, with the project inherently tied to its surroundings, while standing as a sculptural form in its own right, together with its garden ‘grotto.’

The practice attributes much of its success on the project to the “absolute freedom” given by the client in the design process, “justified through an honest, non-dominant dialogue.”

“Thanks to this,” says Janda, “we achieved results that exceed the expectations of both parties, and are not just an imprint of the intended vision.”

A mark of the client’s satisfaction with the project – which endured a 14 year development process – is how Janda has gained a close friendship with the owner, so much so that they continue to tackle maintenance together, as well as other additions to the house. This, he concludes, serves to “develop and deepen its integrity.”