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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

AE 21: Gable Houses

A few recent projects incorporate that most typological of architectural elements, the gable house. Of course each does it in a way that departs radically from the reality of the square and triangle diagram that most people at a young age associate with house and home.

[Childhood House | image source]

Herzog & Meuron's addition to the Vitra campus, Vitrahaus is home to the Vitra Home Collection, where visitors can "discover furniture arrangements here in different style genres - inspirational ideas for your home and your own taste in design." Is that why the architects adopt the form of extruded gable houses, haphazardly stacked, to create a context akin to people's homes? Herzog & de Meuron previously played with this traditional form earlier in their career, such as the House in Leymen.

[Vitrahaus by Herzog & de Meuron | image source]

Domus features a project by Sou Fujimoto that likewise throws gable-shaped forms atop each other. Tokyo Apartment is "a micro-city of stacked houses [that] imitates Tokyo. Precise geometries amassed in a dynamic dismantling and reconstruction of the architectural ensemble." This design seems to follow Fujimoto's previous buildings that grouped similar forms together in various orientations. But combined with Vitrahaus, I wonder if Deconstructivism is now combining itself with Postmodernism to create some weird hybrid that most people can still relate to in some way.

[Tokyo Apartment by Sou Fujimoto Architect | image source]

Living Architecture is a new non-profit set up by Alain de Botton that "offers you a chance to rent houses for a holiday designed by some of the most talented architects at work today," including MVRDV in their Balancing Barn in Suffolk. Obviously here the direct precedent is barns instead of houses, but the idea is the same: something familiar is tweaked into something different, striking. Here that is achieved by a dramatic cantilever about half the length of the house. Inside a glass floor is inserted into the space of pixelated color, reminding inhabitants of the apparently precarious nature of the house.

[The Balancing Barn by MVRDV | image source]

Since the completion of Herzog & de Meuron's Vitrahaus, other designs modifying the archetypal gable house seem to trickle in. I'm sure more will make their way into magazines, books, and blogs in the near future. Why is this? One reason might be a reaction to the distance that a lot of contemporary architecture creates between its forms and its predecessors, between the unfamiliar and the understandable. These designs reach back to something not necessarily primal*, but quite distant in association, as if something is hard-wired into our brains with image of a triangle atop a square. Why else do kids all over the world associate that shape with house and home?

*Peter Zumthor's Secular Retreat for Living Architecture is a design that reaches back to the primal.


  1. gks - I'm just writing this now. Any earlier examples you'd like to share?

  2. Fujimoto's Tokyo Apartments and Herzog & de Meuron's Vitrahaus seemed to be in a competition in which could get built first in terms of the stacking of gabled 'typical house' form.

    The Tokyo Apartments have been published and in design since 2006. Also look at his 7/2 House that's been built in 2006, and his House/Forest concept, 2006. He has been experimenting and writing about the return to the 'primal' (primitive hut) in his book, Primitive Future.

    Regarding other gabled forms, you can see this theme in Terunobu Fujimori's work too (albeit with a different spin). Also see Nakayama Hideyuki's O House 2.

    Kazuo Shinohara has done this too with his Tanikawa House, 1974.

    Also, there are MVRDV's Hageneiland Housing for Ypenburg, 1997/2001 and House Didden, 2007.

    For avant-garde architecture, the return to the “primitive” essentially means a reconciliation with the “pre-modern” – the (exotic old) world standing in conflict with forces of (contemporary) modernization.

    Those projects were in magazines, books, and blogs (the Shinohara house is a bit obscure). Okay, so to rephrase: you are just writing this now?

  3. Bahia Azul House by Cecilia Puga experiments with gable forms.

  4. @gks

    What's wrong with writing about this now?

  5. Because it is rather dated. I think that is why "gks" is asking why "this" now.

    Often in Eurocentric historiography, we tend to neglect what Barthes would call Occidental architecture, or what's going on on the other side of the planet, which is just plain ignorance.

    So to excavate something that was in architectural discourse a decade ago in Japan or Holland and to present it as a contemporary issue seems to be a belated reactionism.

    Having said that, it nice to see some "research" being done. What is missing is perhaps a temporal dimension and a more rigorous inquiry of when projects were conceived and thereafter executed. I like to believe ownership or authorship is pithy but kudos to those who came up with the idea first.

  6. Well, I'm talking about a very particular usage of gable forms, one embodied more in the first two projects rather than the last one. I'm referring to their use in designs that assembles them like building blocks. I'm not convinced that these sorts of formal explorations were being done ten or more years ago.

    I'll admit via these comments that putting the MVRDV house in my post throws off the presentation of what I'm perceiving. The cantilever may be dramatic, but the form is singular, like the Shinohara design and the MVRDV project in Ypenburg. I don't think adding a coat of paint to a fairly pure gable form "departs radically" enough from it.

    Of the examples offered by gks, I think the 7/2 House and maybe the O House come close to what I'm talking about in terms of preserving the form but incorporating it into a design that could best be described as a train wreck.

  7. Here's a nother good example of the recycling of the traditional gable form by Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma

  8. John: If you look at the last ten years, you would see a persistent play on the “typical” gable-roofed house, that seems to be of a different spirit than, say, the Vanna Venturi House. If that’s the form you are experimenting with, eventually one of the iterations will be of it stacked on top itself like building blocks, especially if you need to build for height and other plays on this “typical” gable-roofed-house formalism have exhausted themselves. (Another type of iteration: Yasuhiro Yoshida, Masafumi Yanada, Yoko Okuyama, Takenaka Corporation, 3rd place Arquitectum Tokyo 2010).

    For another stacked-gable form, see Ryuji Fujimura Architects' Project KKK, 2006.


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