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04.27.2010
Crystal Palace
In Detail> The Villa-Libeskind Signature Series
Daniel Libeskind has designed an exacting new prefabricated home.
Frank Marburger

The first thing that Daniel Libeskind will tell you about The Villa, his limited-edition residential offering, is that it’s not a prefab house. Yes, it is largely constructed in a factory before being delivered by flatbed truck to a site and bolted together. Yes, there is more or less a kit of parts that buyers can choose from. But this is not your average mobile or tract home.

To begin with, the builder, German-based firm Proportion, will only make 30 Villas, and these will be sold with regional exclusivity—meaning that only one will be placed within a given area, so you will never see clusters of them. Furthermore, The Villa is a high-end product, as its price tag—$2 million to $3.5 million—attests, built to last, with a crowd of high-technology systems calibrated to meet the most stringent of the world’s sustainability guidelines. It is a fine-crafted object of careful detailing, as can only be efficiently achieved within a shop. The nearest corollary might be purchasing a luxury automobile, where the model is set but the customer selects the paint, the interior, the size of the engine, and other custom features before it rolls off the factory line.

 
Inside, the Villa has mats, skylights and countertops cut at Libeskind's unusual angles.
Frank Marburger

All of these things aside, the most obvious factor that separates this house from the general conception of a prefabricated home is its design: Libeskind, author of grand civic and cultural schemes, has scaled his vision of architecture to fit the most intimate of the field’s disciplines. This is not a home for Joe the Plumber. As with the architect’s other work, it is sculpture—a crystal growing from a rock, according to the literature. Its shard-like volumes with knife-like edges, non-orthogonal apertures for windows, and metallic cladding bear a direct kinship to the Royal Ontario Museum addition or the Crystals shopping mall at Las Vegas CityCenter.

Inside, The Villa boasts a fluid sense of space similar to the flow of these large public works. From a central core with foyer and stairwell, functions splinter off like spokes on a wheel: a bedroom suite, an open kitchen and “Grand Room,” and a “Fireplace Room.” The Villa does include a basement with mechanical systems and storage, as well as well-heeled amenities like a fitness room and sauna.

The facade is a highly technical sandwich of materials and environmental systems.
Klaus Helbig

Buyers will have the option to go with or without a second story containing additional bedrooms and a balcony overlooking the Grand Room—making the unit either 4,300 square feet or 5,500 square feet. They will also have the option of two interior palettes: Libeskind Style or Casual Style. The latter is distinguished by warm parquet wood floors and stone bathroom detailing for a cozy feel, while the former is stark and white and sculptural, a continuation of the exterior’s hard-edged purity.

The Villa is wood-framed, a material chosen both because it is renewable and because it has the properties of a carbon sink—it absorbs carbon dioxide that would otherwise off-gas into the atmosphere. The exterior cladding is zinc—in graphite or blue-gray—and comes with an integral solar thermal system of water pipes that takes advantage of direct heat loads from the sun as well as the ambient temperature.

The plans for the first (left) and second floors. (CLICK TO ZOOM)
COurtesy Studio Daniel Libeskind

The wall sandwich itself is very well insulated with 14 inches of wood fiber insulation, and the low-e coated insulated glass units come either double- or triple-glazed, depending on the destination of the house. Motorized external shades and internal blinds add an additional layer of sun protection to the windows. Photovoltaic panels can be installed on the roof, which also features a water collection system that diverts runoff to a cistern in the basement, where it can be recycled for toilet flushing and the like if local code permits. Buyers also have the option to purchase geothermal heat pumps, further streamlining their carbon footprint.

These energy saving and generating technologies feed into a sympathetic climate-control system. Under-floor radiant heating works in tandem with an HVAC system on a 90-percent heat exchange. Overall, the house uses less than 40 kWh/m2, in compliance with Germany’s KfW40 standard. If you order one, Proportion will deliver it in six to eight months, depending on the permitting process. It will arrive at your patch of dirt in wall sections that an affiliated contractor will bolt together and finish inside. With a little more time and money, they’ll also build you a Libeskind garage and a Libeskind swimming pool— basically everything you need to live in a villa in the 21st century.

Aaron Seward