Autobiographical homes. This title deals with the houses architects design for themselves. The greatest challenge in designing homes is negotiating the delicate balance between aesthetics and the personal desires of the occupants. While it's important for the structure to reflect the vision and style of the architect, the client must ultimately feel at home beneath the roof. It is particularly interesting, therefore, to examine the homes that architects create for themselves. If houses reflect their owners' personalities, then architects' own homes are like autobiographies. Location, layout, style, lighting, artwork, furnishings - every detail adds colour to the story. Each of these dwellings, presented A-Z by architect, speaks more about its designer than any other building possibly could.
The publishers of The Architect's Home have high ambitions, proclaiming this book as ‘the first virtual museum of European architecture'. It is certainly a fine and broad reflection of the predominant architectural style in Europe over the last hundred years. But it doesn't break the publishing mould.
In its nearly five hundred pages the book illustrates and describes one hundred architects’ homes from across Europe, conceived over a nominal hundred year period up to the present day. There is a good balance between text and photographs, both contemporary and historic. However the formatting strictures of having only four to six pages per house mean that occasionally the description is incomplete. To be fair, as the author is grappling with often lost interiors there must have been limited material available on some of the houses.
The use of photographs contemporaneous with the houses adds a relevant layer of interpretation, particularly as many of the photographs feature the architects and their families. The liberal peppering of original drawings and sketches gives a great opportunity to compare the architect’s intent with the realisation. The drawings also show a great range of approaches to using drawings as a tool for understanding and communication.
The author's short foreword proposes that the architect's own house is the truest reflection of him/herself not only because they are not being confined by the expectations of a client, but because these are private spaces not encumbered by self-consciousness. He goes on to declare that,
'Alas, this happy union of private requirement and architectural ambition is being increasingly forfeited, as we see in publications where the visual realm of the interiors coincides with the will of the designers. They convey the hegemony of objects over people, presenting to the public vacuous models of living, bereft of meaning.'
Perhaps this is more attributable to a trend in publishing than a change in architects’ attitudes to their own houses. The wealth of photographs in this book surely illustrate that architects have been using their own houses as demonstration projects for some time. The proliferation of glass boxes show that many architects, far from seeking privacy, are quite content to live on show: Jan Benthem in the Netherlands, Reinhold Andris in Germany, Eugeen Liebaut in Belgium.
Victor Horta's house in Brussels is a strange bedfellow here. Although a wonderful house and beautifully photographed, it sits incongruously amongst its modernist neighbours. The Scottish contribution is similarly out of place - Alexander Nisbet Paterson’s impressive Scottish Baronial house in Helensburgh and Leslie Grahame Thomson’s Arts and Crafts mansion in West Linton. Unlike Mackintosh's own house they do not appear to be part of the 'shared international heritage.....prevailing over national traditions' which the author declares as a unifier for the projects in the book.
There are also modest gems here: Asplund's house in Lison, Jacobsen's terraced house, and Alison and Peter Smithson's little house in Fonthill. It is commendable that this book is not fixated upon the historically famous, nor current ‘starchitects’. There will be many new projects here even for the most knowledgeable of readers.
William Tunnell RIAS