Book Briefs #38: Houses

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews (though some might go on to get that treatment), but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than find their way into reviews on this blog. This installment features five coffee table books on contemporary single-family houses.

Architects' Houses by Michael Webb | Princeton Architectural Press | 2018 | Amazon
Nearly ten years ago I stumbled upon a used copy of Taschen's huge 100 Houses for 100 Architects, which highlights just what the title says: houses architects designed for themselves. Since then I've had a soft spot for such autobiographical residences, having composed a long feature at World-Architects, "Architects House Themselves." Architects' Houses is the latest addition to this literature, in which Michael Webb presents 31 houses by more than 30 architects (many were designed by husband-and-wife architects). It starts with Norman Foster's little-known house in the South of France and ends with G√ľnther Domenig's relatively famous concrete expressionism in Austria. In between are houses on six continents that are all modern yet highly idiosyncratic; it's hard to imagine most of these houses jumping off the drawing board if the clients weren't the architects themselves. As a bonus, Webb has an essay in the middle of the book with pre-contemporary examples of architects' houses and a directory at the back of the book with information on those open to the public.

Casa Moderna: Latin American Living by Philip Jodidio | Thames & Hudson | 2018 | Amazon
When I included Radical: 50 Latin American Architectures in a Book Brief earlier this year, I commented on how the 50 projects were mainly drawn from architects in three countries. The same can be said of Casa Moderna, which highlights 38 houses in Latin America, with 11 located in Chile, 10 in Mexico, and 8 in Brazil (6 other countries fill out the balance). The book can be seen as arising from the attention directed toward Latin America recently, primarily through the MoMA exhibition in 2015, Latin America in Construction, and Chile's Alejandro Aravena, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2016 and curated the Venice Architecture Biennale the same year (ironically, given his work with housing for poor people, he does not have a house in this book). Jodidio, "the scribe of contemporary architecture," groups the houses into chapters defined by their sites: high ground, cities, the tropics, coasts, and forests. But more than context, what comes across is how Latin American architects are masterful at manipulating modern, rectilinear boxes to create sumptuous spaces that take advantage of their natural surroundings.

House Equanimity - Masterpiece Series by Joseph N. Biondo | Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers | 2018 | Amazon
Many moons ago, publisher Oscar Riera Ojeda edited a "Single Building Series" with book-length case studies on such houses as Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's Ledge House and and Vincent James's Type/Variant House. The appeal of delving deeply into the design of houses through sketches, drawings, models, construction photos and finished photography continues decades later, assuming this new book devoted to Joseph N. Biondo's Equanimity House is not alone. Biondo, a partner at Spillman Farmer Architects, built a house for himself and his family not far from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where SFA is located and has realized a number of projects, including the ArtsQuest Center. As in that project, also designed by Biondo, the architect's own house (which could easily be in Webb's book above) is a deceptively simple box with a heart of concrete. Rooted in the area's history as well as its suburban site, the two-story (plus basement) modern house appears to float above the sloped landscape, an effect accentuated by the blue fiber-cement panels across the top floor. Although the concrete is exposed on the interior, the living spaces are far from cold, with selective wood surfaces and wood window frames signaling the influence of Louis I. Kahn.

Hudson Modern: Residential Landscapes by David Sokol | The Monacelli Press | 2018 | Amazon
When considering the country residences of New York City residents, the Hamptons and other parts of Long Island usually get all the attention. But what about the Hudson River Valley, an area removed from the ocean and beaches but full of natural beauty? It's an area that journalist David Sokol hones in on, presenting seventeen houses that are broken up by three conversations with clients and architects. The book's subtitle, "Residential Landscapes," points to the book's main theme: how do the houses relate to and sit upon their properties? Considering that most of these houses, even the most diminutive ones, are on multi-acre sites, it's a fitting tactic for telling the stories of the houses, their designers, and often their residents (not surprisingly, sometimes architect and owner are one). The theme extends to the book design (by over,under), which includes one-page site plans drawn on color backgrounds that are coded to each house.

The Iconic House: Architectural Masterworks Since 1900 by Dominic Bradbury with photographs by Richard Powers | Thames & Hudson | 2018 | Amazon
Of the handful of books presented in this Book Brief, The Iconic House packs the most into its pages. As a "compact and updated edition" of the 2009 book of the same name, The Iconic House presents 83 houses completed from 1900 to 2012. (Best I can tell, there are only three houses added from the nine years between editions.) Twenty of the 83 houses are sidebars accompanying the 20-page introduction, but the rest are given either two, four or six pages with photographs, floor plans and text so small the words are just barely legible. The plans, drawn and labeled consistently if not all at the same scale (they're as big as they can be on the page below the photos), are most helpful – and they are a bit of a surprise given the small real estate for the roughly 9-inch square book (the 2009 original was a couple inches bigger in both directions). It's great to have 63 icons of modern residential architecture, all with floor plans and all in one place.