This week, I'm going to try and inspire you by showcasing my selection of Top 10 Architects' homes. When recently I came across the ABC series In the mind of the architect, I was thrilled to see the first episode featuring Sean Godsell and his own Kew House designed for his family. As his buildings possess a certain radical austerity and experiment, Godsell's home expectedly showcased his own theoretical and architectural explorations put into practice. While the camera was rotating around the elegant metal-and-glass structure, his wife commented that
"Living here is about accepting the fact that you are in a very public domain. It's accepting the fact that your husband has a profession and the profession involves experimenting in the private domain."
One would almost admire her understanding learning that very soon after they moved in she had to get used to changing in the cupboard as there were no blinds even in the all-glass master bedroom. According to Godsell himself,
"It's a symbolic gesture as well as a pragmatic one, but it forces a socialization that we need to deal with as a society in Australia. It forces tolerance within the house."
Yet the daring and beautiful house enjoyed little tolerance from outsiders, often subjected to offensive remarks comparing it to a fish bowl, a zoo and even Auschwitz.
"There is the house you dream about living in and then the house you actually live in. Architects' houses are a third thing: we want to live in them, we dream to live in them and then we have to live in them."
says architect David Luck. And while Godsell could probably get over his symbolic and pragmatic gesture being compared to a Nazi camp, urban myths say that a family member broke his leg while trying to inhabit the famous Stonehouse of the radical Austrian Gunther Domenig. After more than 20 years of design and construction, the completion of Domenig's magnum opus in 2008 was celebrated by visionary architects like Thom Mayne, Wolf D. Prix and Hans Hollein. According to Lebbeus Woods, it was conceived as
"a work of architecture limited only by [Domenig's] imagination and skill, at once a manifesto and an experiment, the outcome of which he could not be sure of at the beginning."
And while it is called a house and its interior suggests this, the architect actually never cared much for living there; Domenig observed the construction of his ever-changing beautiful monster from a small trailer in the back yard, where he used to stay. Currently the Stonehouse is a cultural icon, housing concerts, as well as being featured in numerous magazines and television programs. The Top 10 shows more examples of Architects designing their homes - and there is more on the topic after the break.
Perhaps an architect's home is a dream come true, a chance to unleash one's own creativity and design philosophy, often constrained by clients, cost, programme and functionality - after all, which self-respecting contractor would understand that something as trivial as blinds in the bedroom compromises the socio-political message of the building? And in the case of visionaries, it often means imposing one's own quest into the possibilities of architecture to their families, which have to accept the necessary margin of error in experimentation.
However, designing one's own house is something more than simply conducting a spatial experiment on daily life. "We should make our buildings first, then learn how to live in them.", says Lebbeus Woods and the common mantra of clients that "my house should be a reflection of my personality" here deepens to often very candid, poetic explorations of daily life and the inherent belief that architecture can actually transform people, that rather being simply a construct of comfort and utility it is a being on its own, a series of psychological snapshots of the paths one's mind took while creating and inhabiting it. Perhaps I'm stretching a bit too far here: as you'll see some of the selected designs are pretty much common-sense and would work for the majority of us, as they respond to contemporary trends and aesthetics in a tasteful, yet predictable way. And while Stonehouse could be simply seen as the expression of an egomanic spirit who had seemingly departed from the human concerns for functionality, cost and physical safety, I prefer what Lebbeus Woods has to say for it:
"The Stonehouse belongs to a different world than the one we normally inhabit, and it dares us to find ways to inhabit it, or even to talk about it. Yet here it is, both realized, and real. How real are we, as we stand in confrontation with this difficult work of architecture? Let us be grateful to Günther Domenig for giving us a chance to find out."