Saturday, November 16, 2019


House: Black Swan Theory
Steven Holl
Princeton Architectural Press, June 2007

Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches | 176 pages | 186 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1568985879 | $40.00

Publisher's Description:
In 1989, Princeton Architectural Press published Anchoring, the first book on the work of the then up-and-coming architect Steven Holl. Since then, Holl has become one of the most famous and highly regarded architects in the world through his award-winning residential and institutional work; his teaching, writings, and drawings; and his persistent vision of an architecture that takes into consideration its place, time, and all the senses of the viewer. This philosophy helped to create some of the richest and most celebrated buildings of the past several decades. Indeed, in 2001, Time magazine called Holl America's Best Architect for "buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye." Sequels to Anchoring--Intertwining and Parallax--chronicled Holl's work from the period 1988 to 1995. House brings us up-to-date on Holl's most recent residences and collects his best-known projects from the past including a total of fifteen of Holl's residential works. Rather than having an unvarying style, these houses aim at the sometimes elusive ideal of the specific. Each house tackles a different design challenge, using site as the physical and metaphysical foundation upon which to build. Fusing building and situation, Holl creates a unique expression in each home. Beautiful and innovative, the houses span the globe, ranging from a secluded location in Hawaii, to the Catskill Mountains of New York, to Martha's Vineyard, to the Hague in the Netherlands. Each project is accompanied by Holl's charming watercolor building studies as well as an insightful explanation of how he was inspired by the land upon which the house sits and how the sumptuous materials utilized reflect the spirit of the location.
dDAB Commentary:
In the introduction to House: Black Swan Theory, a collection of fifteen house designed by Steven Holl Architects between 1986 and 2006, Holl writes, "this book is being developed with its counterpart, Urbanisms, the two books form a pair. The focus here is on the 'micro' scale, in the latter one it is on 'macro' scale." House came out in 2007, while Urbanisms followed two years later. With the publication this month of Compression, the latest monograph devoted to Holl's office, it's impossible to see the two earlier books as a pair; coming after Anchoring from 1989 and Intertwining in 1996, these five monographs now make a series. (The photo accompanying the announcement about the latest book's release on Holl's website attests to this way of seeing them.) All of them are given the same page size, linen covers, and clear documentation of buildings and ideas. Each volume in the series begins with an essay by Holl that grounds the projects that follow in some sort of phenomenological thinking. That he designs each building from the starting point of a concept (e.g., the Stretto House follows from a score by Bela Bartok, the House on Marta's Vineyard was based on a passage from Melville's Moby Dick) is almost as well known as the watercolors he creates every morning.

The "black swan theory" that Holl applies to the fifteen houses in House was first articulated in Anchoring: "an ideology forever changing, a black swan theory, mutable and unpredictable." Most simply put, white swans in residential architecture are the "traditional" modern houses that follow well-established principles, while black swans veer from the norm to focus on particulars of site, concept, natural light, and the experience of space. This approach is expressed in the fifteen houses that move from large to small (the TOC shows their relative sizes) rather than in chronological order. House starts with the huge, multi-faceted Swiss Residence in Washington, DC, and ends with the Round Lake Hut, a one-room lakeside structure where Holl paints. More accurately, the book ends with an essay by Michael Bell, Holl's colleague at Columbia GSAPP, who relates Holl to John Hejduk (and Le Corbusier, indirectly) in terms of form, concept, and particularly writing. For Holl, who has built much more than Hejduk ever did in his lifetime, words are obviously important, but for us they are secondary; the houses stand on their own, as materialized concepts and spaces oozing with tactile and visual qualities. These qualities come to the fore in the condensed focus on houses in Black Swan Theory.

Author Bio:
Steven Holl founded Steven Holl Architects in New York in 1976. SHA is a design-oriented office. The firm has been recognized internationally with numerous awards, publications and exhibitions for quality and excellence in design.
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