When architecture hits the news, it’s usually with the big cultural buildings, the starchitect blockbusters: museums, concert halls and cultural sites with iconic complexes. Houses are confined to the style pages of the mainstream media – aspirational stage sets for impossible lifestyles. But the house is the hardest of all buildings, the most private and the most intimate. The house is the embodiment of a life and an almost sacred task. It cannot be a symbol like a museum or a skyscraper, it has more dimensions and more depth than architecture merely as a single statement.www.mrporter.com
The works of Mr Alberto Campo Baeza represent a kind of epic modernism. It’s as if architects Messrs Mies van der Rohe and Adolf Loos hadn’t left off when they’d died, but had carried on refining their work. Spectacularly beautiful but austere, even Spartan, this is work that is demanding. There’s no filling these houses with random stuff and no diverging from white each time you paint them. The effort pays off, however.
Look at his De Blas House, Sevilla de Nueva, Milan (2000). A glass pavilion atop a massive concrete box emerging from the rocky, arid landscape. It could barely be simpler, but this kind of simplicity is difficult to design as it is deceptively complex. Or take a look at the seemingly ridiculously reductive Guerrero House in Cádiz, Spain (2005), a basic white box on the outside, an exquisite minimal courtyard house inside, half-Moorish, half-minimalist; or indeed his work on the House Of The Infinite, also in Cádiz (2014), which seems to extend seamlessly out of a cliff. His most recent dwelling, the Raumplan House in Madrid (2015), looks similarly simple but reveals a complexity that owes much to the Viennese architect Mr Loos. The white cube opens to reveal a complex series of interlocking volumes and intriguing spaces, which may be a little intimidating; almost too pure, they seem archetypal, like a dream of an impossible modernism. But, as Mr Campo Baeza demonstrates, it isn’t impossible at all.
House of the Infinite in Cádiz by Mr Alberto Campo Baeza. Photograph by Mr Javier Callejas. Courtesy Estudio Arquitectura Campo Baeza
A craftsman and an engineer as much as an architect, Mr Tom Kundig makes remarkable houses, which somehow embody an American frontier spirit. His designs revel in the low-tech, almost steampunk machinery, which allows them to adapt with the climate.
Of course, Mr Kundig (of Seattle-based Olson Kundig) designs luxurious villas with pools and panoramic sea views, but his smaller shelters and huts are perhaps more interesting, more dramatic and more idyllic than even his most glamorous designs. Chicken Point Cabin in Northern Idaho (2003) is a lakeside shelter, which Mr Kundig describes as, “little house, big window”. That window is an industrial-style wall of steel-framed glass, which pivots outwards like a garage door to open the whole house to the lake. Controlled by an elemental winding wheel (easy enough to be operated by a child), it provides the essential operation that animates the architecture; super-modern with a hint of industrial archaeology. At Pole Pass, his cabin on the San Juan Islands in Washington, the house seems to blend in with surroundings by way of its horizontal proportions, and its pavilion area, the glass walls of which can be completely opened, to form an inside-outdoor space. Mr Kundig’s designs bear traces of the horizontality of Mr Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie architecture, as well as more modernist influences, yet he melds them into an instantly recognisable and seductively individual language. Who could resist?
Interior of Pole Pass in Washington by Mr Tom Kundig. Photograph by Mr Benjamin Benchneider. Courtesy of Olson Kundig Architects
It isn’t difficult to make the case that the best contemporary architecture is currently coming from Latin America. There is an openness, a care and a desire for beauty, which is utterly seductive. It’s difficult to choose individual designers from such a huge continent but for private houses, Mr Isay Weinfeld of Brazil is difficult to beat. The São Paulo-based architect has been in the news recently having been selected for one of the most sensitive commissions imaginable – the redesign of Mr Philip Johnson’s Four Seasons restaurant in its new home in Mr Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York. With some architects, you may get nervous. Mr Weinfeld, you feel, it will be fine.
His designs blend the influences of cool mid-century modernism with Latin sensuousness. The climate helps as these are houses that seamlessly flow from inside to out, from cool stone floor to warm timber deck. They open their interiors up to the landscape and to the city, as you see in his Geneses House (2011), his three-storey dwelling in São Paulo’s Morumbi neighbourhood, which won the Wallpaper* Design Award for Best New Private House. Set into a steep hillside, one side of the house, for instance, appears as a classical modernist villa in the hills above the city, replete with pool and lawn. On the other, it looks down on the skyline as an urbane – and determinedly urban structure. In the Pinheiros House (2003) and Marrom House (2004), Mr Weinfeld plays with overhangs to blur interior and exterior: the pool becomes a room, the room becomes a terrace. Mr Weinfeld is now shifting up a scale, designing luxury condo towers and hotels – even a remarkable-looking tower in Monaco. So if you want him to design your house, you may need to get in there fast.
Casa Geneses by Mr Isay Weinfeld. Photograph by Mr Fernando Guerra. Courtesy of Mr Isay Weinfeld. Above: Mr Isay Weinfeld. Photograph by Mr Bob Wolfenson
Japanese houses are very particular. There is very little of the culture of restoring or adapting older properties familiar from Western cities. Instead, one house is demolished to make way for a new one. It seems unsustainable, but it has led to the most remarkable culture of architectural invention, a constant drive for newness, difference and interest – on the ever-more sub-divided and ever tighter sites of urban Japan. SANAA, the collective practice of Ms Kazuyo Sejima and Mr Ryue Nishizawa, is among the most inventive, ethereal and consistently surprising of these architect practices.
Its public work is known for its sinuous plans and ethereal transparency – the almost ghostly Louvre Lens (2012), the snaking Grace Farms (2015), or the barely-there Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (2009). Its houses are equally seductive and always surprising. Its Moriyama House (2005), appears like a self-contained city within the city, but is in fact an agglomeration of tiny blocks in which functions are isolated, almost every room within its own separate building. Their Small House (2008), also in Tokyo, is a wonky, translucent concoction that looks a little like it’s been captured mid-earthquake. Absolutely tiny, its walls shift in an out to make maximum use of the tight site. The practice’s unrealised Flower House (2007), meanwhile, appears as the apex of its adventures in architectural transparency – based on an organic plan like the petals of a flower and walls that seem to disappear. Insistently innovative and capable of producing an architecture of almost inconceivable delicacy, SANAA is among the most intriguing architectural firms of our age.
Exterior of Moriyama House by Mr Ryue Nishizawa. Photograph by Mr Edmund Sumner/View Pictures. Above: Mr Ryue Nishizawa and Ms Kazuyo Sejima. Photograph by Mr Takashi Okamoto