AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio

Het Gooi, The Netherlands

In 1993 a young professional couple from Amsterdam set out to build a private house unlike any other. They wanted to create something that “would be recognized as a reference in terms of renewal of the architectural language.” They reached out to several architects, including Rem Koolhaas, but finally decided to entrust the commission to Dutch architect Ben van Berkel after he studied the site and came up with a vision for the project, relating it to the couple’s lifestyle.

Located in Het Gooi, its design took over 5 years, going through several iterations, but always coming back to its core inspiration: the Möbius loop. The shape, defined as a single-sided surface with no boundaries, was the key to a new architectural language that aimed to weave together all the individual activities of each family member, allowing the functional program to be integrated within the dynamic structure. By 1998, when the house was completed, it became widely published and internationally recognized. It also became a sort of manifesto for its architect, as it uses an organizational principle to inform the final image.

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AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio - Interior Photography
Möbius House / UNStudio. Image © Eva Bloem

To create this new type of architectural language that was requested, Van Berkel based his concept on his clients’ type of lifestyle. The design creates a fluid circulation between the different functions of the space, allowing for areas for work, sleep, playing, socializing, and intimacy, all defined by ambiguous boundaries. The shape of the Möbius loop thus became linked to the idea of the 24-hour living and working cycle of the family. As the loop inverts, the exterior becomes the interior and vice versa, creating a strong relationship between the house and the landscape. In the words of Van Berkel, the idea of incorporating the Möbius loop into the design originated from his “interest in mathematics, science, complexity theory, chaos theory, and topological surfaces.”

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“Suddenly, You Step into the Landscape through the House”: In Conversation with Ben Van Berkel

This architectural loop produces a continuity and integration of living and working areas. The concrete and glass exterior of the house, too, seems to fold back on itself: from one perspective the glass is a skin slipped over a concrete house; from another, the building is a glass house framed by concrete. - Terence Riley, curator of the ‘The Un-Private House’ exhibition at MoMA

AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio - Interior Photography
Möbius House / UNStudio. Image © Eva Bloem

The complex design also capitalized on one of the most important innovations of the time: 3D computer modeling. While the first sketches were hand-drawn, by 1995 the design process became computerized. Van Berkel became acquainted with the new technology while working as a teacher at Columbia University, which launched its famous paperless studio in the same year. This new tool allowed for a completely different type of experimentation, fusing drawing and modeling to investigate and create new spatial effects with increasing complexities. The final image of the Möbius House is tributary to these technologies, which placed it at the forefront of parametric design at the time.

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Mobious Band. Image Courtesy of UNStudio

It was a very exciting time. We were playing and testing how computation design could be manipulated by parametric variants. It was a very special moment for parametric design, very fresh and very promising. – Ben van Berkel, in an interview with Vladimir Belogolovsky

At first glance, the functional program seems modest, containing two work studios in addition to the typical elements of a private house. However, architect Ben van Berkel and his wife Caroline Bos used this opportunity to experiment with concepts of spatial ambiguity, designing two independent circulation paths that run parallel through a sequence of spaces. The concept of the Möbius strip proves useful in that it transforms the two surfaces of the strip into one continuous surface by twisting the material. This concept gains an architectural shape by allowing primary circulation paths to extend through the lengths of the longitudinal axis, opening sight lines that connect the programmed spaces. The resulting spaces rarely feature right angles as the space continuously contracts and expands in response to the daily routine of the residents.

AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio - Interior Photography
Möbius House / UNStudio. Image © Eva Bloem

Instead of walls and doors, the different spaces within are defined by variations in the ceiling heights. Higher spaces are created for dynamic social interactions, while dropped ceilings create an atmosphere for solitary reflection. Abstract furniture pieces emerge from the massing of the building indicating in subtle ways the intended use of the space. These soft variations in form, combined with sculptural points of interest and the encouragement of a curious wandering through the spaces of the house make the structure no more a ‘machine for living,’ but rather ‘an environment for living.’

AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio - Interior Photography
Möbius House / UNStudio. Image © Eva Bloem

The house features a minimal material palette being rendered almost exclusively in concrete and glass. This translates without distractions the dynamic tectonics of the design. Heaviness and transparency communicate movement as they play off one another. One example is the south-facing curtain wall abruptly interrupted by a concrete obstruction, orienting views and creating a rhythm in the perception of spaces. Concrete cantilevered elements also create interactions between the circulation paths and the living spaces and serve as attention-drawing sculptural elements.

I particularly like one cantilever over the entry below as it leads to the master bedroom. That’s the moment of suspension where the landscape opens up in a very spectacular way. Suddenly, you step into the landscape through the residential architecture. - Ben van Berkel

AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio - Interior Photography
Möbius House / UNStudio. Image © Eva Bloem

The folding and unfolding of spaces integrate the structure within its natural landscape. Located on a secluded and densely wooded plot, the building uses its glazed surfaces to interact with its surroundings. As the loop inverts, landscape is brought in and the exterior structure of the house turns into interior furniture, an artificial landscape.

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Floorplan 01. Image Courtesy of UNStudio
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Section - Work, Live, Sleep. Image Courtesy of UNStudio

The Möbius House came out of the four quadrants layout; it is a landscape design idea. Every quadrant has a dedicated zone for each of the four people in the house. Those four zones are combined with a number 8-shaped path in the natural landscape. So, I wanted to combine clockwise the experience of exploring the four quadrants of the landscape into one organizational entity. - Ben van Berkel

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Time Use diagram. Image Courtesy of UNStudio

Upon opening, the Möbius House gained immediate recognition. It became widely published both in the Netherlands and internationally. In 1999, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened a major exhibition titled “The Un-Private House” featuring the project. By the time of the opening, Ben Van Berkel and his wife Caroline Bos had already relaunched their office as UNStudio. Despite its modest size, the project remains a turning point in Ben van Berkel’s prolific career, establishing him as an innovator and one of the pioneers of parametric design and serving as a sort of manifesto for the future works of his office.

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Cite: Maria-Cristina Florian. "AD Classics: Möbius House / UNStudio" 11 Jan 2024. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Möbius House / UNStudio. Image © Christian Richters

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