Because in ‘Material Art’ aesthetic appearances and meaning are inextricably connected, the functionality of architecture requires that no competition with the physical presence  of  the artwork be offered. Accomplishing this task requires a kind of servitude; an architectural understatement asking not for flashiness and effect, but for inconspicuous precision and quiet self-assertion, it asks for an architecture that in its attention to necessity is completely conscious of its dependance on the sensual qualities of the basic principles of architecture: mass and proportion, light, materiality and precision in execution.

Architects: Philipp von Matt Architect BDA
Team: Philipp von Matt, Felix Habich, Rolf Zimmermann
Location: Berlin, Germany
Category: House Atelier
Client: Leiko Ikemura
Project Year: 2016
Gross floor area: 1192 m2 Effective
area: 760 m2
Gross Volume: 3845 m3

Artist Atelier House Leiko Ikemura By Atelier PhvM - Sheet8
©Atelier PhvM

The task of building in this case is naturally different than that of building a museum. Qualitative criteria which could form the basis for the conception of an artist’s atelier-house  are  ideally widely congruent with those that would function for museum construction. The freedom of the artist as client and resident takes priority, she must be able to control the space and time with total security, as undisturbed as possible, both upon taking up residence and also during the building process.

With this in mind, from the earliest stages of construction as much as possible was defined, and left in a certain material condition. Ceilings are aligned via projections according to the requirements of the room. Thus the needs of the owner and the materials used in engineering the construction are merged economically; every detail is condensed in the interest  of  a symbiotic connection of material and form. The inclusion of this new structure in the urban spatial context has been thought through. A consciously quiet figure, the facade is realized in a solid unity; the material, in accordance with the  appearance  of the  neighboring  buildings, is brick masonry dressed in a rough mineral plaster.

The facade leaves a simple and unadorned surface to speak for itself, while the interior lends stability and character. Material ages with us, carries the traces of time in its advancing years; in its patina and little unadorned marks, patterns and cracks, the beauty of maturity: its true ‘Wabisabi’.


What does art require, and of what does the artist dream regarding the space in which her creation takes place? The house is a living organic use-object, the atelier her workshop. It’s rooms serve observation, contemplation and concentrated work. Walls want to be utilised, ham- mered into, used as image-carriers. In their physical materiality the planes of the walls compose the counterpart to the observer. They are not characterless, rather having their own personality, expressive without being loud. The modesty and simplicity of smooth plaster increases in

its sparseness the intensity of the juxtaposition of the observed object, architecture, and the observer themselves, lending the walls a painterly ‘Sfumato’. Surfaces are left in the subtle, natural chromatic of cement, serving, like the walls, as both image carrier and backdrop, for example as a base for sculptural and visual works. Floor coverings are for  the  most  part avoided. Only in the entrance hall the cement flooring is sanded, and thus refined, offers up the impression of a Venetian wash. Apart from the composition and colour of the structural design of the flooring with its adjacent wall and ceiling surfaces in exposed concrete, it was decided to forgo with decoration for the most part, to benefit the expression of the materials and their organic properties; though I do not see ornament, as such, as a crime. Just the opposite.

Artist Atelier House Leiko Ikemura By Atelier PhvM - Sheet11
©Atelier PhvM


Upon entering the house a large, sealed double-wing door immediately appears, framed in sharply angular exposed concrete-fluting that suggests an adaptation of Carlo Scarpa. Behind this door, well protected from the noise of the street and the goings-on of the house, is the atelier of Leiko Ikemura. The entrée functions as a buffer between entirely different worlds; the cool environment of the entrance hall allows visitors with its 6 meters height to immediately take a deep breath. Heavy walls retain temperature, creating fresh air in the height of summer, and warm the stairwell with heated flooring throughout the winter. From the spare entrance hall, the stairs swing aloft through the space of the stairwell; in part composed of raw cast-concrete planking, augmented with fine-grain lime-cement plaster. The elliptical footprint of the stairwell is a reference to a staircase of Andrea Palladio. The rhythm of the spiral form ascending to the heavens is reflected in its gently curved soffit, the carefully laid  exposed  concrete  surface formed onto finely cut wood strips. The accom- panying handrail follows with the same flowing, vertical movement. Sparse daylight sweeps over these walls in a varied manner, causing not only the materials but also the manner of their construction to come alive, creating a kind of “Instant – Wabisabi”. Thrown into shadow, the experience of a few selected rays of light and their surroundings is heightened.


The atelier is the vessel for the production of creative people. It is not a place of representation, that is, an outer display, but rather serves the internalization of the collected spirit. It can tolerate no props expected of the bourgeois idea of ‘better living’. No, well-meant decoration should not hinder creation. ‘Void’ creates tension for the mural, bright rooms.

Exhibition walls are functional walls. The material of these walls must take this changing presentation into account without it appearing as an aesthetic concession. In order to avoid a temporary or provisional impression pictures should be nailed directly to the walls, not strung up on a picture rail. The walls must provide fixed support for the work itself. The structure of the walls must be even, offering the perception of depth. One must also consider these walls as a backdrop for standing objects. Only architecture that may be used, that does not disturb or limit the personal aesthetic of the user, can integrate in this context, necessary for the understanding of the artwork.

In this respect the walls  of an artist’s atelier, and exhibition walls  such as those found in

Artist Atelier House Leiko Ikemura By Atelier PhvM - Sheet12
©Atelier PhvM

museums, must be in relation to the qualities of the art. Architecture for art is generally not seen as good when it interferes with free, unobstructed viewing, rather requiring  properties  that support concentration. Thick walls without distracting  accessory are a good  means to this end: an expanse of space-containing wall with little or no windows; ‘the spirit flies with the wide views out the window’, as the asian saying goes.

For this reason, views from the atelier windows are consciously limited. The arrangement and proportion of the rooms is determined not only by function, functionality  being  generally overrated, but also length, height and width are considered not only in relation to the art but also to one another, and to the proportions of people, the observing counter- part, the user and resident. It is about proportion: openings in walls and ceilings that affect the repose of the rooms with a more or less natural influence. Sequences of space should ideally rest within themselves or merge fruitfully, forming a spatial continuum that breathes. The condition upon  which everything else depends is an easy, natural daylight, some- thing that not only facilitates the viewing of the art, but is in fact utterly indispensable. A pure and muted daylight can transform the observation of pictures on a wall or sculptures in a room into a great pleasure. If even one of these factors is not well addressed, or indeed entirely missing, the cohabitation of art and architecture is threatened with collapse.


Openings in the facade of the house are closely correlated with the quality and quantity of the shadows on the walls. The incoming light is measured carefully according  to the interior, in graded doses. Central rooms receive, through vertical slat windows, a softly filtered natural light through partly translucid, semipermeable glass. The living and atelier rooms are fitted with generous, though not exaggerated windows, framed  in oiled  Siberian Larch. On the exterior these frames are protected from the elements by a metalic trim. The colour of the Larch wood is sovereign, offering contrast to the predominant architectural elements in their palette of white to pale grey. Naturally, all atelier rooms are fitted with white glass, to ensure a clear, uncoloured daylight.

Artist Atelier House Leiko Ikemura By Atelier PhvM - Sheet14
©Atelier PhvM


How are the openings of the rooms designed and arranged? Should there be holes, slots or elongated openings in the walls, or are ‘four walls and an overhead light’, as professed by Baselitz in his essay on the topic, sufficient?

No. In order for the body of the building to meet the needs of its resident it requires in its manifold forms of space varied sources of light, at times transparent but often rather translucent, in which undisturbed concentration and intimacy benefit, quickening the creative  spirit.  The height of the rooms is generous but not exaggerated, in order to allow for the above described ‘cohabitation’. With rooms of varied size and function placed adjacently, their individual spacial dimensions and requirements for light and passage intersect, with attention given to the subtle lines of sight. In every case, the most modest and direct solution is sought, which is not to be confused with a simplistic approach. Openings in the facade are measured precisely. With light, as with poison, the dosage is paramount, it regulates the being and non-being of art and its observation. An overdose of light stings not only the blinded eye, but also damages, in terms of conservation, the artwork itself.

‘So benumbed are we nowadays by electric lights that we have become utterly insensitive to the evils of excessive illumination’, wrote Tanizaki Jun’ichiro already in 1933 in his book ‘In praise of shadows’, lamenting the loss of perception of light-dark nuance corresponding to a fluctuation of the mood of the observer.

©Atelier PhvM


The stark atmosphere of the stairwell and its grey surfaces is the counter- part to the softer, mildly tempered atelier and living spaces. Thus is formed an organism of rooms that, according to their function, are each oriented to the suitable cardinal direction. The one true luxury in the scope of the house is the generosity of the dimensions of the rooms, though  these  remain always in relation to the measurements of humans.

The dramaturgy can only be experienced by the contemplator in time and space, while viewing in his movements the changing scenery through the shifting light in a day, through the seasons and in various weather conditions. In passing through sequences of rooms, the visitor experiences the building in the universe of its atmospheres.

The Swiss artist Remy Zaugg (*1945 — 2005), motivated by his dissatisfaction with existing museum space, dissected in his 1986 lecture “The art museum that I envision, or the place of work and of man” the necessary basis for an architecture for art in an exemplary manner. (Verlag Buchhand- lung Walther Koenig, Cologne 1987). He described the construction of an imaginary architecture, its position in the cityscape equally considered as its essential details, the floor, the walls and ceiling as well as their relation to one another. His opening words can also be read as a summary ‘The object that I envision is simple, I would even say that it is trivial.


Simplicity is also a basic principle on the technical level. Reduction of the implementation of mechanical and electric engineering is necessary for the creation of contemplative, undisturbed working and viewing spaces.

The rooms are heated by full-surface floor-heating, supported ecologically via solar panels, as is the warm running water. Large space with little (visible) technology supports the sensual experience of architecture. The orientation and measurements of the windows lends not only a pleasing atmosphere but also an economically sensible organism with a substantial  heat retention and little heat loss. And, where practical a ‘greenhouse’ effect is utilized, the heating requirements are further reduced through the use of passive solar energy.

Artist Atelier House Leiko Ikemura By Atelier PhvM - Sheet7
©Atelier PhvM


At every level of the building, access to roof-terrace, balcony or garden space is  built  in, enriching the atmosphere of the corresponding living and atelier spaces. In this way the indoor and outdoor space is at every level consciously conjoined. In the courtyard a peaceful rock garden has been created that can be directly accessed from the atelier rooms in the ground floor, creating a spacial relation of contemplative character. Based on the form  of  the  Zen garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, this is meant to be a place for inner collection. The windows of the atelier are also partly arranged according to those of the Kobori Enshu tea house in the Daitokuji tempel area of Kyoto, in such a way that the room is flooded with diffuse, filtered light, and, in following the line of sight through the window, the view is starkly concentrated on the garden floor. Thus the possibility of natural spiritual compilation in the atelier rooms of the ground floor arises with the outlook and the insight to the essential: Being and Nothingness.


Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

Write A Comment