Location: Suffolk, United Kingdom
Architects: MVRDV for Living Architecture
Coming down the unassuming tree-lined approach road, one would never guess there was anything remarkable about the house known as the Balancing Barn. At first glance, its traditional shape more closely resembles a children’s drawing of a house rather than an architecturally inspired feat of physics. The awe-inspiring view from the back, however, quickly does away with those inconspicuous first impressions. The Balancing Barn, in actuality a 30-meter (98.4-foot) long structure designed by the Dutch firm of MVRDV, dramatically teeters over the edge of a small hill on a 15-meter (49-foot) cantilever.
Built in 2009 on a site once known as Church Farm, the property is owned and maintained by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust – an enterprise interested in preserving local flora and fauna. Previously an unremarkable 1950s bungalow surrounded by other dilapidated structures, the Trust worked with Living Architecture, a UK-based not-for-profit holiday home rental company, to reinvigorate the space. Living Architecture then engaged MVRDV for its reputation throughout the world for intelligent, yet playful architectural designs. The practice had yet to build in the UK, so this debut needed to make a splash. After discussing several design options for the space, MVRDV decided a balancing structure would make the greatest and most stunning use of the two levels on site. The idea was to allow visitors to enter nature without disturbing it by giving the impression of floating above and out into the beautiful nature reserve surrounding the property. This impression was later reinforced with glass floors and ceilings as well as panoramic windows in the sitting room and throughout the structure, offering amazing views at every turn.
The structural achievement of the house is completely hidden from view, adding to the magical levitating effect. On the outside, silver tiles of polished stainless steel conceal the necessary frames. These tiles also reflect the natural surroundings of the structure, allowing it to further dissolve into nature. On the inside, the beams are wrapped in wood to give the appearance of continuous surfaces with many interesting angles and complex shapes to engage the eye. This disappearing act flows from the central idea of the project, allowing for human comfort with as little disturbance to the wildlife reserve as possible, with the ultimate goal of encouraging the return of native species. Before construction, Living Architecture worked with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust to carefully remove protected animals, as well as a large number of non-local species of plants in order to return the location to its natural state.
This mind-bending structure is a play on traditional barn construction, designed with the intent of reconnecting visitors with the beauty of nature. In 2011, it won several awards, including the Condé Nast Traveller Innovation & Design and Red Dot Design awards. With four bedrooms, the Balancing Barn makes an unforgettable getaway for up to eight people, and it is available for vacation rental year-round.