House by the Garden of Venus, Austria

How do you build a new home on a site that is already occupied by a historic farmhouse and a fruit orchard? By constructing the new house on top of the old one. The result is a bright and unconventional Active House.


Innovative reuse 

Sustainability is about finding new solutions. But sometimes it is also about preserving old ones. In 2012, that was the case in the small Austrian village of Willendorf.

Here, a young fruit farmer wanted to create a modern, loft-like living space in his mother’s old farmhouse. A permit granted the owner the right to renovate the house to Active House standards: by building on the sprawling orchard – the Garden of Venus.

Willendorf is famous for its Venus of Willendorf, the most significant Upper Palaeolithic discovery found on Austrian soil. Willendorf is also known for fruit production – especially its Wachau apricots.

In other words, the community cares about its history and landscape. The young farmer was no exception: he wanted to keep his mother's home and fruit orchard that was part of the building site.

To transform an old farmhouse into a spacious, modern mixed-use property while preserving an apricot orchard and stunning views, the project team needed to think outside the box. The new structure would ideally reduce CO2 emissions and set a precedent in sustainable re-use of existing rural settlement areas.

Designer Volker Dienst and architect Christoph Feldbacher came up with a solution: extending the upper floor of the narrow, historic building with ‘a house upon a house’. The plans focused on maximising natural light and preserving orchard views.

Despite the neighbourhood’s high building density, the House by the Garden of Venus provides ample daylight, privacy and a strong connection to the natural environment. Horizontal ribbon windows on the eastern side and strategically placed roof windows on the western side bring light deep into the interior.

All areas of the top floor are evenly illuminated all year round, even on cloudy days, via the glass gable wall on the northern side, which also provides an uninterrupted view of the apricot orchard and the Danube Valley.

Photos: Jörg Seiler

Architect: Volker Dienst

The Active House Radar shows the performance of the building based on calculated data.

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