A DI-VA in the making

21 Dec 2011

Humble eco-residence in Lyon completed using wood and wood-based products

The DI-VA house, whose name is a play on the owners' names, occupies a previously empty space in the residential Croix-Rousse district of Lyon. Given the narrowness of the frontage, and the fact that there is a building directly opposite, the architects decided to adopt a judo-type strategy. The house turns away from direct confrontation, and exploits chinks in the landscape in order to optimise the views and ambiances. Entirely prefabricated, it was constructed in less than a week.

DI-VA occupies a site of 200 sq m that had been abandoned for some years. To the south there is a dense, homogeneous area that was constructed in the 19th century, and to the north, a group of buildings, miscellaneous in height and spacing, that express a more ‘modern’ spirit. The street (Rue Henri Gorjus) is disparate in character, but there are two broad styles, and DI-VA marks a cut-off point between them. On the southern side, the buildings are aligned, and traditional in character; on the northern side, juxtaposing DI-VA, there is a detached house dating from the 1970s, set back from the street and surrounded by trees, which signals the start of a section that is more open and less structured.

Despite its unimposing dimensions, DI-VA plays the role of a mediator between two periods, and two visions of urbanism. It is attached to a building that terminates the classical sequence of lined-up buildings with windowless gables, while its main facade, on the other side, looks out over the contrasting part of the street. This asymmetry is accentuated by the subtle treatment of the main entrance. There is a space between the prefinished steel door and the main body of the house, separating the public and private domains, which enhances the effect made by this decentred edifice.

DI-VA is a simple volume, with four identical floors of 60 sq m each. The southern gable is attached to the house next door. The facade that faces the street has practically no openings: it is silent and abstract, apart from a vertical strip of glass behind a wooden lattice that admits light into the staircase and gives a hint of inner life, but without divulging it. There are also inset horizontal openings that bring light and air to the ground floor, but are undetectable from the outside.

The northern facade is the most exposed, being perceptible from the street. The communal living spaces have two vertical columns of picture windows that maximise visibility, including that of the neighbouring cedars. The western facade, which cannot be seen from the street, opens onto the garden, which is bounded by an aesthetically coordinated wall. It is overlooked by the bedrooms and other private spaces. The western facade, in sum, stands in contrast with the eastern. The former is transparent, the latter opaque. In order to minimise energy consumption, while maximising comfort, the design included external insulation for the walls and roof, using 160mm Trespa Météon panels. The outer frame is in larch, the floors in ash. In sum, all the components are made of wood or wood-based products.

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