This Home in the Austrian Alps Pushes the Limits of Prefab Design

Berlin-based Danish architect Sigurd Larsen created this home in the Austrian Alps to meet the needs of a young family—namely by expanding the possibilities of prefabricated building

In order to build a family home high on an Austrian mountainside, architect Sigurd Larsen turned to prefab construction, creating the building’s walls and roof in a factory before assembling them on-site. The house, built for two teachers in the nearby village and their children, was designed around the site’s extreme landscape, taking in panoramic vistas of the hillside and valley below from the first floor, and framed views of the surrounding mountains from the second.

Instead of bringing in earth-moving equipment to create a flat building site, Larsen designed the house in harmony with the hill’s natural slope. “We built a fairly normal house, like a big black bar that touches the landscape at one point, and then below that there is a new space, which is open to all sides,” says Larsen. This cantilevered structure also provided a unique space for a kitchen on the first floor, which the architect sheathed in glass on three sides, to create what he describes as the “feeling that you could just run out onto the hill.”

Upstairs, smaller windows in the building’s siding frame particular views. Set low in the wall, these windows highlight views of the valley below when a person is standing in the room. But seated in a chair, the sky and vast mountain ranges that make this place so spectacular make themselves visible.

Building in Austria’s Alps presents a myriad of challenges to the would-be architect, from long winters that put the brakes on construction to steep mountain roads that can stymie machinery and material deliveries. Instead of building the house on-site, Larsen and his team had the the facade prefabricated. The architect explained that with prefab the majority of the work could take place over the winter in a heated factory.

Once the pieces were hauled to the site, the exterior of the building went up in only 12 hours. With the exterior complete, flooring and interior work could take place inside the structure. Larsen explains his rationale behind prefab construction saying, “Prefab is a little bit faster. It’s a way to build that makes better conditions for the people who are working, and it’s not so dependent on the weather, which can be tricky in both Denmark, where we build a lot, and in Austria.”

Despite its prefab construction, reverence for woodworking and local craft is present throughout the house, from the local wood cladding to built-in furniture such as the kitchen bench and wooden staircase. “The carpenters in Austria are very skilled,” says Larsen. “They have been building there for the last 1,000 years or so, and they have lots of knowledge and they really have a culture for woodworking. It’s a humongous pleasure for an architect to work with people like that.”