Belgrade's daring House for a Craftsman draws squarely on modernist ideas

An experimental yet functional family home for a craftsman is a workbench for ideas, materials and techniques that draws on modernist ideas, designed by TEN architects in Belgrade

The Avala House, a House for a Craftsman, Belgrade, drawing on modernist ideas
(Image credit: Milos Martinovic)

TEN Architects’ House for a Craftsman is that rare object, a piece of experimental architecture that is also a functional family home. Perched on a gently sloping site outside Belgrade, the house draws on modernist ideas and was designed for a local craftsman with a career in interior refurbishment.

The new house was to be simultaneously a statement of intent, as well as a functional workbench for ideas, materials and techniques. It also had to be a deeply practical building that could be adapted, repaired and upgraded as the years go by. The architects, Nemanja Zimonjić, together with Ognjen Krašna, Jana Kulić and Miodrag Grbić, worked with the client on the house for over three years, including a year on site.

House for a Craftsman, TEN Architects

(Image credit: Milos Martinovic)

Set within an existing orchard, the plan is breathtakingly simple. A set of 16 modules, each measuring 3.2m x 3.2m, is arranged to form a courtyard structure. The latter is precisely 16m square with a 9.6m x 9.6m interior cut out that preserves three existing trees. The house is raised up above the landscape and touches the ground at only three points. Two of these are large, boulder-like concrete elements. The biggest houses the bathroom. This leaves the upper level as a free-flowing, open-plan space housing living, kitchen and dining areas and a bedroom, with a freestanding WC alongside it.

Only one side is this square structure is enclosed – by floor-to-ceiling glass set within a slender steel box frame. Two other sides function as terraces, while the final part of the structure is left as an open grid. Shifts in material and moveable elements such as blinds, shutters and curtains allow the character of the space and the house itself to change continually. The inner façade of the living space can be hidden completely by ten large pivoting steel doors, or opened up to the internal courtyard. 

The house is raised up above the landscape and touches the ground at only three points

(Image credit: Milos Martinovic)

Master bedroom, House for a Craftsman, TEN Architects

(Image credit: Maxime Delvaux)

This spirit of openness is emphasised by the handcrafted furniture, which references the structural audacity and simplicity of the house as a whole. The architects describe the process as being a challenge to the ‘norm of architecture being a complete conceptual product, delivered to the site via the client’. Instead, they call it a ‘genuine conversation’, as the client was involved at every step of the way. Together, they found practical solutions for aesthetic problems and generated news ideas via processes.

Local materials and craftspeople were used throughout, something the architects point out is an extension of early Yugoslavian modernism, which was extremely progressive and self-reliant. To an outsider, the House for a Craftsman evokes many things and modernist ideas. It recalls the meticulous sculptural concrete of Japanese Metabolism, the artistic rigour of Donald Judd, and the experimental verve of Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre. There is even a hint of the exhibitionist glamour of the Californian Case Study Houses.

Ultimately, it is much more than a collection of visual quotes, but an expression of how everyday materials and human ingenuity can imbue a simple structure with lasting significance.

Metal shutters, House for a Craftsman, TEN Architects

(Image credit: Maxime Delvaux)

The dining room and kitchen, House for a Craftsman, TEN Architects

(Image credit: Maxime Delvaux)

TEN architects

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.