zu-haus, Austria - a low-tech Active House 

Replacing an old barn with a modern home has given this Austrian family a house that connects generations and integrates energy-saving technology with traditional architecture.


Combining tradition with sustainable architecture 

It is easy to see why a young family would want to settle down in Auerstal. The village in Austria’s Weinviertel region is characterised by dense and enclosed housing in the centre, a beautiful alley lined with wine cellars, and a gentle, hilly landscape.

On the outskirts of the village, the Döllinger-Tsao family of three set out to replace an old barn with a new energy-saving house that would connect to the next-door home of one of the owner’s parents.

The environmentally conscious family came across architect Martin Rührnschopf, who is known for his sensitive approach and location-based ecological architecture.

Taking a holistic approach to energy, comfort and environment, the project team set out to develop a low-tech Active House concept with high residential quality. The small site, nestled between two existing buildings, had previously contained a barn; the new structure would ideally offer modern living conditions while paying tribute to the past.

It became neither a ‘modern, cool box’, nor an obviously modified country house with muntin bars on the windows and polystyrene profiling,"

says architect Martin Rührnschopf.

On the site of the old barn, Rührnschopf created a 129 m2 home that incorporates the appearance of the original farm building while making use of modern elements. Completed in 2013, the contemporary interpretation of a barn continues through to the interior, with the pillars, the supporting structural elements, the ceiling beams and the roof all being made of wood.

On the inside, some of the inner wall surface was clad with the old clay bricks saved after the demolition as a tribute to the old barn.

The architect retained and reinterpreted traditional functional elements, including the ventilation slits and the sliding barn doors, which now allow the family to easily open their home up to the street or create privacy. As planned, the zu-haus connects to the parents’ home next door.

The design team focused on infusing the zu-haus living areas with sufficient daylight even on overcast, foggy days, which are quite common in the Weinviertel region in autumn and winter.

A combination of large-scale vertical glazing on the south side and well-placed roof windows guarantees plentiful, even and natural light, contributing to a welcoming, spacious interior. The combination of ample daylight, white walls, light wood and concrete floors creates a fascinating lighting mood.

The roof windows are equipped with translucent electric blinds programmed to deploy automatically on midsummer mornings.

The Döllinger-Tsao family did not wish to install a mechanical ventilation system. So, at the early design stages, Rührnschopf determined the ideal positioning of the facade and roof windows that would provide the necessary air supply and exhaust openings.

Facade windows with concealed motors act as air supply openings, while VELUX INTEGRA® roof windows, also with concealed motors, allow air to escape effectively upwards. The resulting natural ventilation system creates what is called the chimney effect and offers maximum benefit with no energy consumption – and minimal technology.

Photos: Jörg Seiler

VELUX INTEGRA® roof windows

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If you want ultimate comfort, the remote-controlled VELUX INTEGRA® roof window is the answer. The window comes with the new VELUX INTEGRA®control pad so you can control all your windows and accessories – such as blinds, awning blinds and roller shutters – easier and faster from anywhere in your house. A pre-fitted rain sensor will close your roof window automatically if it starts raining. Being available in both electrically and solar powered versions, the VELUX INTEGRA® roof window is the ultimate choice for out-of-reach installations or fresh air and a better indoor comfort.


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VELUX awning blind

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