Carlos Zwick’s newest project, a modernist-inspired house, replaces two old collapsed timber frame structures on the shores of Lake Jungfernsee in Potsdam. The site itself was impressive, stretching to some 4,000 square metres, and although it adjoined a busy road, it was overgrown and seemingly out of sight, out of mind. The Berlin-based architect had been hunting for a lake house – or suitable site for one – for several years, and even though he’d visited the neighbouring property, the site hadn’t caught his eye.

Before it was abandoned, the site was a popular local destination, complete with café, a dock for private boats and ferries and even a ballroom. As the years passed, the decayed industrial character of the buildings put off potential buyers, even though it was perfectly located, close the city centre, because the structures were protected by law, despite their dilapidation. And new buildings were strictly prohibited from being located within 50m of the historic shore. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, Zwick and his partner bought the site in 2014, not knowing whether they could even get permission to build there. 

Carlos Zwick’s House on the Lake is raised up above the existing site on steel columns
Carlos Zwick’s House on the Lake is raised up above the existing site on steel columns that allow the structure to thread through existing trees

Nevertheless, the architect set to work on a design that preserved the integrity of the site, retaining the original terraces, piers and mature trees. The primary inspiration was Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois; a pavilion raised above the landscape. Whereas the Farnsworth House has never quite been high enough off the ground to escape flooding, Zwick’s proposal used height as a way of preserving both nature and the past, dividing the accommodation into a main living space and separate annexe. It took five applications before the plan was approved; the final scheme included the renovation of the original structures as well as the complete retention of the terraces. 

To achieve this, Zwick mounted the twin pavilions on ten individual sets of foundations, each comprised of four angled steel posts. This arrangement raises the whole house three metres above the site, maximizing lake views and giving the architect flexibility to accommodate the existing trees – an ancient maple rises up through the living room. Construction required the use of a mobile telescopic forklift as conventional cranes couldn’t be used in amongst the trees. Every façade is clad in fine strips of larch.

The expansive lakeside terrace at Carlos Zwick’s new family house on Lake Jungfernsee
The expansive lakeside terrace at Carlos Zwick’s new family house has views across Lake Jungfernsee

The principal house has a 22m long lake-facing façade, with a loggia that runs its full length. Three separate living areas access this one terrace, all with spectacular views. The main space is a kitchen-dining room, complete with 7.5m long dining table to accommodate the eight-strong family. The master bed is located in the riverside pavilion, with ancillary self-contained accommodation in the second structure, set at right angles to the main house.

‘The water had me captivated and I thought to myself, how can I place the interior and exterior as close to the lake as possible. So in effect we appear to be floating above it, whether eating breakfast in the living areas or on the loggia with its glazed railings,’ says Zwick of his lake house.

The 7.5m long dining table in Carlos Zwick’s House on the Lake
The 7.5m long dining table in Carlos Zwick’s House on the Lake looks past the site’s existing mature trees

The lofty undercroft is light and airy, with the angled steels mingling with the existing mature tree trunks; you’re barely even aware of the house above you as the focus is on the terraces and lake ahead. For Zwick and his family, the long-running project has been worth the considerable effort, with structural audacity preserving the qualities of the site – the perfect family lake house.

‘The elevated living space gives us an indescribable quality of living,’ says Zwick. ‘At breakfast time you can see gray herons and swans passing by at eye level and in the evening here and there you will see otters waddling through the shallow water.’ §

The main bedroom in Carlos Zwick’s House on the Lake
The main bedroom in Carlos Zwick’s House on the Lake has views back across the historic site
The House on the Lake was designed around an existing maple tree

The House on the Lake was designed around an existing maple tree , a focal point in the main living space

Carlos Zwick’s family house has stunning lakeside views from all the principal reception rooms

Carlos Zwick’s family house has stunning lakeside views from all the principal reception rooms