Californian modernism in Kleinmachnow

Kappe Architects


Berlin furniture dealer and mid-century expert Lars Triesch fell in love with the home of Californian architect Ray Kappe. Without having secured a building plot, Triesch called the then 89-year-old Raymond "Ray" Kappe in 2017 and asked if he would design a family home for him. The architect agreed.

Completed in 1967, the Kappe Residence is characterized by an architecture of clean lines that blend organically into the nature and topography of its surroundings. Six concrete towers support an open structure made of glass and Californian redwood, so that the surroundings and interior can barely be told apart and the open-plan spatial configuration is flooded with light. "Ray Kappe's own home, built for his family in Pacific Palisades, was my holy grail," is how builder Lars Triesch explains his inspiration for the project in Kleinmachnow. However, the search for a building plot in Berlin proved difficult.

Kappe Architects, now run by Ray Kappe's two sons, build flat roofs, which are not permitted in many places in and around Berlin. The Triesch family nevertheless found what they were looking for in Kleinmachnow, to the south-west of Berlin, where flat roofs are part of the cityscape. Between 1932 and 1934, Hermann Henselmann built several modern residential buildings here, whilst Walter Gropius built the Bahner House in 1933, and an early work by Egon Eiermann from 1934/35 is also located in Kleinmachnow.

Thanks in particular to its facing south, the Californian architecture is successfully embedded into the Brandenburg countryside: "The plot is sunny all day long," says the builder's client, and now that same sun floods through large windows into the interior of a house with just under 3,230 square feet of floorspace.

The design for Ray Kappe's first building outside the USA had been completed by the time he died in 2019. Unfortunately, he did not live to see it being built. The design engineering, consisting of two concrete pylons and glu-lam, is based on Kappe's characteristic linear, clear and open style of building in timber. A deep balcony, an overhanging flat roof and a structured window front shape the façade. The open interior connects not only individual living areas but also both floors with each other, while a skylight floods the centre of the house with light.

"Both materials have this warm, soft colour and are characterized by their constant changeability. The natural patina of the bronze and the surface of the wood have a lively and dynamic effect and give the house a special quality and identity."

- Lars Triesch

Amongst other things, a "gallery space" houses reproductions of Kappe's unique pieces of furniture made from American red oak, whose dimensions Triesch established when he visited the architect in California. He now sells these under licence through his company "Original in Berlin". FSB 1267, a lever handle based on designs by Mies van der Rohe, fits in perfectly with modern edifices of this kind.

Just as the Californian redwood darkens, so the bronze lever handles and sliding-door pulls develop a patina to a greater or lesser degree over their surface – depending on people's specific routines and mannerisms. The colour of the bronze accentuates the glow of the Californian redwood so as to impart a great sense of warmth to this unique house.

The Triesch Residence in Kleinmachnow also raises the question of whether good architecture really needs to be constantly reinvented and whether it is not possible instead to reflect more confidently on the justified successes of architecture from the recent past at least.

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Photos © Philipp Jester