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Lui House

With the LUI HOUSE, architect Karsten Monke was able to realise his idea of modern, future-proof working. The creative hub, located in Herford's innovative MARTa district, is as versatile as its architect, who served as its project manager, interior designer and client. The inventive complex demonstrates the intersection of sustainable building and personal values.

It could be said that the four storey, orange-red brick building was the missing puzzle piece which now completes Herford's MARTa district. The cube-shaped building fits in naturally amongst various points of interest such as the MARTa museum, the Elsbach Haus, the historic Rubensfabrik and the Steigenberger Intercityhotel, which was also designed by Karsten Monke. It is of course no coincidence that the colour scheme and materials chosen for the LUI HOUSE complement its neighbouring buildings. However, every element of the building tells its very own story: that of Karsten Monke. 

A massive business card


"An architect should never build his own house...

...because he'll probably never be finished with it. He needs to make decisions while being influenced by an enormous number of factors." Architect Karsten Monke knows what he is talking about. All the same, he managed to design and build his 2000 square metre LUI HOUSE in a swift 18 month period, including the interiors.  Over the 18 months, Monke put as much of his free time, energy, and heart and soul into realising his vision as he did practical work.  "During that time, my children only talked to me using the formal German 'you' pronoun," the Herford-born architect jokes. Monke's flexible position as client, architect, project manager and interior designer enabled him to circumvent lengthy coordination processes with a client and complete the build in good time.

A vision of liveliness

Monke had already formed a vision for the office building in the first few weeks of the planning stage. Instead of a classic complex with offices rented out long-term, the LUI HOUSE would be a lively place where diverse people and sectors could come together.  The actual workspaces were reduced to the basics. Instead, the building features co-working spaces, a creative lab for workshops, training, and company events, and conference rooms which can be rented out. The conference rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art media and conference technology, and can be booked and used by companies and independent business owners; they are used only when needed. This means that vacancy and idle capital are avoided.

LUI HOUSE was nominated for the BEST WORKSPACES Award 2022 in Germany. BEST WORKSPACES is the first international architecture award for intelligent workspaces and office buildings.
The modern workplace includes office workspaces, conference rooms, co-working areas, a creative lab with a spacious roof terrace, a café, and a lounge which can be used for events.

The 'new work' concept is topped off with a multi-use lobby, which can be used for intimate concerts for up to 250 people or can function as a public café. "The eatery connects the inside to the outside," Monke explains. "Besides serving the people who work in the building or who are attending conferences and workshops, it is also available to those from outside the complex, who want to enjoy the view over the new boulevard while sipping a coffee on the southern terrace."

Compromises are not a solution

The theme of liveliness is threaded through the whole building project, just like the client's love of detail. The results can be seen in the brickwork of the façade: rather than a classic wall, the bricks are arranged so that their indents are visible. The inspiration behind the exciting surface of creative brickwork came from a group of buildings Monke saw on a private trip to Copenhagen. With the help of his personal brick expert, Backstein-Kontor from Cologne, Monke sought out a small brick factory in the south of Denmark which made these stones in the traditional way. "Finally, the production leader and I experimented around with various designs before settling on our final hand-moulded brick. I really wanted to create a colourful liveliness in the brickwork - we achieved this black colouring by scattering the bricks with manganese." As if this weren't exciting enough, Monke wanted the LUI HOUSE façades to be made completely out of clinkers. "Every window, every spandrel height, every lintel height needed to fit with the crooked Danish clinkers. In this way, we designed almost every detail and every stone of this building before construction." To check whether the dimensions would fit, Karsten Monke built the first sample wall out of clinkers himself during the shell construction phrase.

The Herford-born architect had to think creatively and repurpose materials for the ceilings which now cover the whole building, too. According to his design, the suspended ceiling needed to allow for cooling via the concrete core activation, while keeping noise to a minimum, complementing the sophisticated architecture, and extracting moisture to prevent damp. There wasn't any such design on the market, so Monke decided to develop his own product here too, and worked with a manufacturer of composite wood panels to create a pattern of perforations which the carpentry then cut into the material.


A play of highlights and atmosphere

Besides acoustics, the lighting concept played an important role for Monke. "Lighting can be used to support the architecture and can really set the scene. But it can also ruin a scene, for example in a car dealership, where everything is equally lit." The entire building is fitted with Occhio lights which offer smart light control. The software allows every level of the building to be programmed with a variety of distinctive settings, which can create different atmospheres in a room depending on need, time of day or season. By using an iPad or hand gestures, the lighting can be dimmed or faded and the colours changed. "Light needs shadow to be effective," Monke states.

Packed with personality and liveliness: even the materials used were personally designed and produced by the architect.

But LUI HOUSE is effective in many other ways too. Functional elements are staged artistically, like the internal staircase which acts as a sculptural piece. Made entirely of steel, the staircase connects the ground floor to the co-working space on the first floor, without touching the ground. "The floating staircase is only 80 centimetres wide, and the walls are made entirely of steel. The psychological effect when you step up is really something."

Although Monke would like to wipe the word 'classic' from his vocabulary, he says that it is not all about "reinventing the wheel." Instead, he wants to get more uses out of natural, available raw materials and recyclable materials, interpret them in new ways, and manufacture or arrange them in unconventional methods.

Ecologically and economically sustainable.

LUI HOUSE is completely energy self-sufficient even down to the water taps, and its sustainable building structure makes it a showcase project for the area of Herford and East Westphalia. The large photovoltaic system on the roof creates energy for the whole building, be it for the smart lighting on all the floors, technical equipment, or the two heat pumps. These pumps are connected to a deep geothermal energy system with eleven holes, each of which is located 100 metres lower than the previous one. Heat recovery via floors and ceilings enables aeration and ventilation, and electronic bidets aid in reducing consumption of toilet paper.

But is the energy-efficient concept also economically sustainable? "Far too few architects and clients consider the lifecycle costs," says Monke. But around 80 percent of the total costs which arise during a building's lifecycle crop up only after construction has been completed. Therefore, the choice of materials has a huge impact on maintenance and repair costs. "We can usually only make these decisions in the planning process. The concept of 'cradle to cradle' is on everyone's lips nowadays, but it should be a matter of course, not just a trend." This idea played a vital role in this project.

Authenticity lasts the longest.


The experience Karsten Monke gained from various internships prior to his degree in architecture, such as working as a roofer and a structural engineer, reveals itself in his planning and construction. "I naturally approach things more practically, and look at building materials differently. My colleagues who have completed purely theoretical degrees lack the awareness of the complexity of a building, and the understanding of how materials work on a build." Monke's practical expertise and background in construction and engineering have, however, also helped shape his attitude towards architecture. "Today, you can buy tiles that mimic the appearance of a hardwood floor. I can't understand that." Neither does he have time for synthetic products used to prevent a material from changing visually.  "When synthetic materials are damaged, they look broken. But when an authentic material has a flaw, like a faded colouring or a change in the surface from age, it gives it a certain character. Just like us, materials can age gracefully."

With the LUI HOUSE, Karsten Monke was able to immortalise this sentiment. He used only authentic natural materials which were manufactured by hand. The modern and robust polished stone floors work towards this architectural vision, as do the raw plastered walls.  These were intentionally left uncoated so as to let the liveliness of the material shine through. "The walls were only covered in a transparent coat of paint to prevent them from deteriorating, so the natural cloudiness of the lime-cement plaster was preserved. These imperfections underline the overarching image of the building excellently."

Bella Ciao!

The architect also conceptualised the complex's interior and selected the elements himself. As with the rest of the building, he placed tremendous value on individual elements, high-quality craftsmanship, and character. Karsten Monke's combination of the modern with the traditional gives his design a distinctive character and makes his work unmistakable. Every eye-catching element of the building serves at least one function; even here, idle capital is avoided.

Upon stepping into the in-house café, another centrepiece stands out: an authentic Italian Piaggio Ape C from the year 1960, which was converted into the café counter and lovingly integrated into the space. The idea of the small, three-wheeled vehicle had been in the back of Monke's mind for decades during his trips through Italy. When designing the café, he was reminded of something he had seen at the Italian furniture fair 'Salone del Mobile': a bubble car which had similarly been repurposed to have an espresso machine and eating area. Monke did not want a vehicle which could be found on any street, however. He wanted an 'old-timer' in original condition; a special piece. So special in fact, that he was only able to find three such vehicles in Europe. And after clattering down the streets of Herford in the Ape C, Monke could finally introduce the vehicle to its new home.

Monke's affinity with Italy (which starts with wine and ends with fashion) began when he first started to be self-employed and planned showrooms for four Italian furniture companies. The Italian touch is even hidden in the name of the building. "As this building is also my baby, the word 'Lui' (meaning 'he' in Italian) represents myself as a person and also refers to the Luisenstraße (on which the complex lies)." A character-filled house through and through.

Details for reference

Type of building

Office and Business


Doors, sliding doors, façades, windows, security


AD UP 75, ASE 67 PD, FWS 50.SI,  AWS 75.SI+, ADS 80 FR 30


Herford, North Rhine-Westphalia

Start of planning

July 2019

Start of construction

October 2019

Completion date

December 2020


archwerk GmbH

Specialist company

ALUBA Aluminiumbau GmbH & Co.KG

Picture credits

© Schüco International KG