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.