Sustainable Modernism: House in Regensburg

Posted on by Lauren Moss

Building a green home, while increasingly popular in recent years, isn't a completely new concept, and the House in Regensburg by Thomas Herzog, built in 1977, still resonates today as a unique and beautiful example of thoughtful, site-responsive architecture.

Elegant in its simplicity, the design employs key sustainable principles, including passive heating and cooling, appropriate material selection and responsive building form, all of which enable the structure to have minimal development impact while maintaining a high degree of efficiency- the result of an integrated approach to site, technology, and design.


Rejecting the widely-held belief at the time, that low-energy and ecologically responsive design was intrinsically shaped by an anti-industrial aesthetic, Herzog embraced the convergence of science, modernism, and innovation to generate sustainable architectural solutions.

For example, the ‘sunspace’ concept has been in practice since the Victorian era, when conservatories were built at exterior walls as transitional spaces, used to moderate the temperature between interior spaces and the outside climate, thus reducing the potential for extreme shifts from day to night, as well as seasonal changes throughout the year.


Herzog utilizes this idea in his design, but within the context of a modern and rational form. His sunspaces (which are also functioning greenhouses) face south, and the interior is divided into zones along the north-south axis. The main living space is connected to the sunspaces with an intermediate hallway, as seen below. 


All spaces share an simple shed roof that transitions from dual-pane glazing above the sunspaces into a titanium-zinc material above the living spaces, creating the triangular form that defines the building's massing.  The exterior, clad in locally-sourced wood, softens the visual impact of this rigid geometry with contextual, sustainable materials.

The process of how thermal energy is captured, stored, and re-radiated to maintain a comfortable temperature during the winter months is conveyed at the section diagrams below.


In the winter, solar radiation penetrates the greenhouses, as well as the living spaces, at a low angle, allowing light and heat to enter the home.


To regulate interior temperatures at night, the thermal mass of the the stone floor absorbs daytime heat and releases it slowly throughout the evening to warm occupied spaces. The inverse of this process occurs during the summer months.

The residence was also designed to minimize development impact, with a raised floor system to reduce potential disturbance at the site and protect existing drainage patterns. The floor plan responds directly to the surroundings with the omission of the sunspace module where a beech tree still remains, integrating the natural environment into the design in a unique and unexpected way.


This consideration for and protection of the natural ecosystem is not only inherently environmentally responsible, but also serves to moderate the site's microclimate and provide shade during the summer. Additionally, the raised floor encourages passive cooling by allowing airflow beneath the structure, increasing the effectiveness of natural ventilation through and around the building.

Herzog's House in Regensburg is not only a beautiful example of modern design, but also a testament to the fact that creativity is not compromised by sustainability. In fact, creativity is enhanced by this type of contextual and innovative thinking, making for a project that is not only green, but timeless and visually engaging, in both concept and execution.

For more on Herzog's philosophy and to view other projects, visit his firm's website.