Our works » Kaštel Kambelovac, Croatia
Dalmatian Villa, Kaštel Kambelovac, Croatia
Practice Roles: Architect, Client
Consulting Engineer: Adriatic Investments d.o.o.
Built during the pandemic, and with a final construction budget of under £250,000, Ben Smith and his Croatian wife, Karmen, self-built an off-grid villa for the long-term. This undertaking was a journey of discovery which required working within tight constraints to realise a clear vision that was sparing in its gestures, and its budget.
The land, gifted by family, had literally been a cabbage patch. Over the past two decades this area of the Dalmatian coast has become more densely populated, but the plot had been sidelined given its proximity to the coastal railway. However, with the lack of regular trains on the Split line, the railway corridor turned out to be more of an advantage, protecting the panoramic views across the Bay of Kaštela to the south. This orientation is not wasted by the horizontal cropping of the view from the top floor. In terms of massing, the building is deliberately restricted to a cubic volume and set to the east, away from the only neighbour. Sculpting the crisp volume with large openings created expansive and very direct relationships with the landscape. This offered a way to connect with distant viewpoints and create a dialogue with the dramatic landscape – Kosiak mountain behind to the north, and the central Dalmatian archipelago laid out in front to the south.
The articulation of the solid-void dialogue is accentuated by calm and tactile materials. The ethereal, edgeless rendered white cube hovers above larch panelling, which reappears within the recessed openings above. A heated, polished-terrazzo floor uses the same local aggregate as the seamless, in-situ-cast eight-meter worktop and the curved concrete wall that embraces the olive tree beside the pool. This local stone also appears surrounding the pool, which is sunken into the natural gradient of the site forming a plinth facing the garden and overlooking the sea. The interiors are finished in lime plaster, with no paint finishes or artwork. The bespoke oak joinery was all handmade by a local carpenter with a light but natural finish. The flat roof harvests rainwater captured in a large tank beside the pool and the neighbours’ well provides a natural source for irrigation. Solar panels and an air source heat pump keep energy bills to a minimum and help run an electric car. Thick insulation and high thermal mass combined with triple glazing mean that building maintains an ambient temperature even with the extremes of the Dalmatian climate.