"The house is intimately related to the idea of shelter,” says Swiss architect Mario Botta. “A cave carved out of the rock is like a mother’s womb. When I am tired of the world, I want to go home. There I can regain my energy to prepare for the next day’s battle.”
Our lives are inextricably entwined with the uterine sanctuaries we create for ourselves. They are the setting for our daily dramas, the place we cohabit with our loved ones, conceive and raise our children. A good house is a source of pride or envy, income or strife. We happily devote countless hours to decorating and redecorating, furnishing and extending.
Philip Jodidio, editor of upcoming book 100 Contemporary Houses, has seen more than his fair share, compiling a list of some of the world’s most interesting and desirable homes. He scoured the world in search of the most interesting and innovative (mainly 21st century) projects, from the ultra-modernist Monopoly-style house designed by Aires Mateus (main image) to the sleek cliff-side residence by Durbach Block (far right); from the minimalist concrete “shells” nestled in the Japanese forest (below) to the insane Ewok-esque Acayaba House built into the São Paulo jungle. It’s a thrilling demonstration of how architecture is refining and redefining our concept of the house, building upon our primal need for shelter.
“The houses were chosen for their architectural interest, for their inventiveness,” says Jodidio. “I placed a high value on showing the variety of types of houses that exist.” For logistical reasons, the majority of the houses included are small residential projects: “Single-family houses permit a degree of experimentation and originality that often cannot be matched in much larger projects. Usually it is a single person or family that decides with the architect what will be built – a much simpler process than for bigger, more expensive buildings that get caught-up in decisions made by committees.
“Architects have shown particular creativity when it comes to urban houses, where land is at a premium – small can be more inventive and exciting.”
New technology has opened up a whole new frontier in residential architecture, allowing designers to integrate features that were impossible two decades ago. “Computer assisted design and production have made many unusual or entirely unique forms possible. It’s now possible to make houses that are more and more open – sometimes literally opening entirely to their environment. Concerns about sustainability mean well designed houses consume less energy and are more ecologically responsible. The forms and patterns of family life have changed over the years, too, meaning architecture has to reflect new lifestyles, where standardised spaces – living room, dining room etcetera – have been broken down or opened up.”
Designing houses is also the most reliable way of discovering new architectural talent, says Jodidio. “It’s far more accessible for young architects than larger projects, which often require a long list of completed work just to get a chance to be considered. A client with an open mind and a sufficient budget can give an architect a chance to start out, just as Frank Gehry’s early private houses in Santa Monica, Venice and California revealed his talent. Many architects who went on to win the Pritzker Prize, such as the Japanese master Tadao Ando, started out designing small houses before going on to larger structures. Residential architecture poses all the issues of larger buildings on a more manageable scale and thus can be a laboratory for architectural innovation.”
The problem from an appreciative standpoint is that private residences are just that: private. Unlike public buildings, you can’t traipse through somebody’s living room just because their house is of architectural significance. “Books like this allow at least a virtual visit of these works of architectural creativity, many of which achieve the highest level of what must be termed a form of art.”