Houses for Sale
Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample
Corraini Edizioni/CCA, November 2019
Hardcover | 8-3/4 x 12-1/2 inches | 126 pages | 128 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-8875707040 | $45.00
In Houses for Sale, architects Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS Architects invite readers on their family’s quest for a new home through the annals of architectural history, exploring details and peculiarities from some of the greatest names in architecture. When they realize that there isn’t any one house that suits them perfectly, they decide to design their own. In doing so, Meredith and Sample come to the conclusion that no building is perfect and that architecture is an exciting, ever-evolving project in which the process of bringing a new building to life through design and construction can be even more satisfying than the final product itself. Published in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Houses for Sale is a charming and thoughtful introduction to architecture’s varied history, with full-color illustrations and simple text that are suitable for aspiring young designers and experienced architects alike.
Since at least 2016, when they contributed a "selfie curtain" and a 1,500-page tome with scale figures extracted from architectural drawings for the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial (its theme was "Are We Human?"), Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS Architects have put a unique emphasis on human figures in some of their output. The one-off book they made for the biennale was edited down and published by MIT Press in 2019, as An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures without Architecture, and the same year saw the married duo tackling a children's book, working with Corraini Edizioni and the Canadian Centre for Architecture to produce Houses for Sale. The word "houses" may be in the title, and many notable ones are found in its pages, but the book is about people: Meredith, Sample, and their children, plus the diverse assemblage of entourage figures that populate the spreads.
Houses for Sale tells the story of a family's search for the perfect house. "There were many houses for sale" reads one of the first spreads in the book (first spread below), and while "some had large roofs" and "some looked simple," all of their visits were to iconic works of modern residential architecture. The same houses litter such coffee table books as The Iconic American House: Architectural Masterworks Since 1900, but while those are geared to adults who like modern residential design and might even be able to realize their own version of it someday, Houses for Sale tells kids about buildings by Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Louis I. Kahn and many others, setting them on a course toward the same grown-up appreciation. That's probably not the intention, but I see it happening. Since it's drawn rather than photographed, Houses for Sale can present at least one house that doesn't have a physical reality: Diller + Scofidio's Slow House, a touchstone for architects of Meredith's and Sample's ages, myself included.
Most of the book's 63 two-page spreads are devoted to a single modern house, drawn as an oblique projection across a black background. Standing out from the darkness are the figures, always anchored by the main couple and their children, who drive a blue sedan topped by boxes and pulling a trailer in their cover-to-cover search. The other figures vary widely from spread to spread. A rain shower accompanies their visit to John Hejduk's Wall House 2 in The Netherlands (last spread), for example, so a couple walks huddled together under a jacket, kids splash in a puddle, a dog's rain poncho matches its owners, and people dry inside the house look out through its ribbon windows. White text on the black background points out the houses' interesting features, but since some of the terms are specialized (e.g., Charles Moore's Orinda House is "an aedicule of space"), this is clearly a book that architects will read to and with their children.
Given that the houses work in chronological order from cover to cover, the story ends with Meredith and Sample opting to design their own house rather than buy one of the masterpieces they drove around the world to see. Things get technical as they explore structure, construction, and materials. Nevertheless, these pages don't depart from the careful composition of building, figures, and words that define the earlier spreads. In a short text on the rear endpaper, the architect-authors admit that there is "an incredible sophistication to the naïveté of children's books": what looks casual is actually very deliberate and therefore far from easy. With images and words given their own space and therefore rarely overlapping, clearly the couple worked very hard to achieve a visual balance, one that lets readers leisurely scan the pages and which pulls them along on the couple's illuminating architectural search.