Ballet Mécanique by Manuel Herz is Zurich housing with a twist

Ballet Mécanique by Manuel Herz is Zurich housing with a twist

Located in a quiet suburb of Zurich, just one street away from Le Corbusier’s Heidi Weber Museum, Ballet Mécanique is a group of Swiss residences with a twist. The clue is in the name. Its architect, locally based Manuel Herz, designed the housing scheme with a facade that consists of louvres that can open up and transform into accessible balconies.

The residential building is located on the grounds of an existing villa, on a large site near Lake Zurich – the garden of which was integral to the design development. ‘One of the greatest qualities of the site is its garden, which is marked by a wild and primeval quality’, explains Herz. ‘Walking through it, we encounter surprises, wild plants, installations, objects that seem like the remains of forgotten cultures, trees with sculptural qualities and footpaths that disappear into nowhere.’ 

The structure’s distinctive moving elements, not only provide shading, privacy and an outdoors element; they also bring the outside in and shift the otherwise clean geometry of the structure into a dynamic, sculptural whole. The building is in its essence a simple cubic volume, but when the metallic louvres open, its character changes dramatically. So the house lives and breathes together with its inhabitants – opening up in the morning, when they wake up and have coffee on one of the colourful terraces, shutting hermetically at night during bedtime.

The new structure sits on the grounds of an existing villa. Photography: Yuri Palmin

The louvres feature 20 different hues of reds and blues, which are visible only when open. This adds a touch of colour to this inspiring residential design – influenced also by the nearby Le Corbusier project and the great architect’s use of colour. The interiors spread across three floors include a variety of living and sleeping areas. Five apartment units make up this boutique housing development; they are let to tenants and any profit is channelled by the art collector owner into an art foundation established to support emerging artists. 

This connection to art was also a key source of inspiration for the architect. ‘The client is interested in kinetic art, such as Alexander Calder, and Jean Tinguely’, explains Herz. ‘From the very first moment, I was inspired to bring this kinetic spirit into the design of the building. I also like the slightly "awkward" or almost clumsy movement of the Tinguely sculptures, which is also very important for my building. It should not be too slick and overly graceful. There should be this notion of a "ghost in the machine".’ 

The shape and movement of the new building was also created in homage to a tree, which stood on the site and had to be removed in order for construction to begin. In constrast, the interiors feel relatively minimalist, featuring clean, straightforward details and a restrained material palette of metal and concrete – allowing the focus to remain firmly on the house’s expressive exterior. §

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