Sometimes it’s the precision of architecture, optimally planned and executed, that received all the praise. But when carpenter Anton Mohr built a new workshop with all the precision of his ability and to his own satisfaction, the building became so much more.
Laugh, be amazed and feel good
Architecture journalist Robert Fabach describes a special feature of Bregenzerwald architecture: The region’s extraordinary company buildings. In this issue, an exploration of the addition made to the Mohr joinery in Andelsbuch.
We find ourselves standing in front of a small group of buildings in Andelsbuch. All three structures are situated between the national road and the tracks of the erstwhile Bregenzerwaldbahn railway. Closed down in 1980, it had been for many years the history-rich connection to Rheintal valley and Bregenz. Today, the tracks serve as a bike trail that leads through the meadow past Peter Zumthor’s Werkraumhaus. In 1988, Anton Mohr built his home here. Two years later, he also constructed a workshop building for his carpentry business, which he had just taken over from his father. In 2015, he added an extension to the workshop and last winter he provided the old building with a contemporary, yet timeless façade by cladding the exterior with untreated, upright spruce planks. A wide shop window provides a welcoming touch. It is a functional building, albeit with a flat saddle roof styled according to the Vorarlberg building school of the 1980s. The extension with its greying, untreated shingles acts as a barrier to the road and forms a small courtyard with the residential house. The view to the rear is unobstructed and showcases the meadows and forest covered in deep snow. Though construction in the Bregenzerwald has always been associated with the building culture in Vorarlberg, it often diverges along its own paths, which are characterised by the region’s strong affinity for craftsmanship. Since the 1950s, carpenter Josef Kaufmann has introduced numerous innovative technologies such as roof-truss binders and glulam construction in Vorarlberg. Then, along with his nephew, the Architect Leopold Kaufmann, he received international acclaim for his timber buildings. The era of “architectural artistry” at the beginning of the 1980s is also more subdued and technically solid here. The interplay of self-confident craftsmanship and architecture culminated in 1991 when the first “Handwerk+Form” competition was held and in 1999 with the foundation of Werkraum Bregenzerwald. Both still consciously promote an equal exchange between craftsmanship and design.
The design of Mohr’s workshop extension also takes this synergy into account. Andreas Mohr, architect in Vienna and brother of Anton Mohr, knew his uncle’s business well. Thanks in part to his own furniture designs and his work as a planner of the then-still-temporary Werkraumhaus in 2006, he has much more than a casual stake in regional craftsmanship. His designs are not simply an addition to the existing, but reflect instead a deliberate development of the company on three levels. The year-round air-conditioned basement contains, in addition to a few machines, an extensive wood store with frequently used veneers and numerous stacks of selected solid wood. These objects are both the treasure chamber and foundation of his work. Much earlier on, Anton Mohr had already gotten rid of the wood-drying machine and instead used the space for natural wood drying. The wood then “matures” in the cellar for up to three years. When the addition was constructed, a portal the height of the building was also erected on the ground level, which welcomes customers and interested visitors with three workstations for planning, organising and invoicing. Right behind it, a closed wall at half height screens off the new workshop. This area takes up a much larger part of the room and is connected to the existing building. Here one can observe members of the eight-person carpentry team wearing ear protection and working on circular saws, planing machines and band saws. The mental care and true passion for the materials is tangible at each edge, handle, table, chair or lamp.
While Anton Mohr explains the varnishing of brushed thick-film veneers to me, customers from Great Britain happen by. They greet, laugh and marvel at the unusual finesse of this joinery. “Already, tourists have stood in front of the door wanting to know whether the Werkraumhaus was now open,” says the carpenter Mohr. Various publications now regularly attract visitors both domestic and foreign to visit the visibly shy man behind it all. They usually tour the workshop or enjoy the peculiarity of being able to purchase a piece of furniture made up on the basis of samples and examples. A spiral staircase made of ash wood leads us into the attic of the annex, where a multifaceted exhibition space extends across the entire length. This is the perfect environment to hear stories about the house and the impressive gallery of prototypes and serial furniture, which the carpentry team has created themselves from their own designs or in cooperation with various designers. Much of this work received recognition at the triennial “Handwerk+Form” competitions. For me it’s a pleasure to let my gaze wander as I listen. Four double glulam trusses of finely structured beech plywood catch my eye first. They span the entire room, employing classic carpenter trusses without metal. Engineer Konrad Merz is behind the design of their special load-bearing capacities and certainly also their aesthetic quality. This was the reason why this new development in timber construction was used here for the first time. The inside surfaces of the roof are made of fir veneer, brushed and painted matt white, and their fine texture seems like white linen when backlit. Here, the principal of making good things simple and simply seems to permeate every aspect.
The spaces between the supporting structures were used for narrow strip lighting that bring order to and illuminate the room. The asymmetrical geometry lessens what otherwise make a rather sacred impression, transforming it into a workshop-like atmosphere instead with groups of chairs, cupboards and bed frames that showcase the rich craftsmanship. Mohr sometimes rearranges or removes items to make space for modest events. A small photo studio has even been set up in one of the structural niches, where furniture is professionally captured. His regional clientèle is slowly expanding in Europe thanks to the effect of Zumthor’s neighbouring Werkraumhaus. Before leaving, I realise that nothing whatsoever about this place is intimidating, which along with the graciousness of the people may be one of the reasons that the furniture is so popular. Both the staff and the furniture are unassuming, a coherence that allows architecture and furniture to come together here. Everything is what it is. And it’s good.
Author: Robert Fabach
Edition: Winter Travel Magazine 2018-19