Alison & Peter Smithson: Hexenhaus
Edited by A&P Smithson Hexenhaus-Archiv
Walther König, November 2021
Paperback | 8-3/4 x 11-1/4 inches | 272 pages | 212 illustrations | English | ISBN: 9783960989325 | $59.95
In 1984, German furniture-maker Axel Bruchhäuser reached out to architectural duo Alison (1928–93) and Peter Smithson (1923–2003) with a playful letter ostensibly written by his cat and addressed to theirs. The letter between cats inquired about commissioning the Smithsons to build several lookouts on Bruchhäuser’s home, known locally as the “Hexenhaus” (the “Witches’ House”—a common name in the area where the Brothers Grimm wrote their fairy tales). Started in 1986 and completed in 2001, and located in a dense forest in Hessen, the renovation that the Smithsons undertook constituted an example of what they called “law of the conglomerate.” Step by step, the house was expanded and opened to admit the light as well the trees, which became part of the interior. The house’s primary materials are wood and glass, providing a poetic example of latticework and a stunning use of natural light.
Of the few buildings attributed to husband-and-wife architects Alison and Peter Smithson, Hexenhaus is little known, especially compared to their earlier Hunstanton School (1954), The Economist Building (1965), and Robin Hood Gardens (1972, demolished 2017–19). Hexanhaus is not included in the Smithsons' Wikipedia profile, and though I'm far from an expert on the Smithsons, I had never heard of the project before receiving this book from publisher Walther König. Compared to those earlier projects, which are masterpieces of modern and brutalist architecture in the UK, Hexenhaus — located in a German forest that was the setting of Grimm Brothers' fairy tales and appropriately translates as "Witch's House" — is idiosyncratic, made up of additions to and renovations of an existing house that were carried out between 1984 and 2020. Modifications to the house and forested property owned by Axel Bruchhäuser were carried out by Alison until her death in 1993, continued by Peter until his death in 2003, and then resumed a decade by their son, Simon, who is also an architect. A plan dated 2020 in the book locates no less than 31 interventions carried out over nearly 40 years.
FOR FURTHER READING:
- Italian Thoughts by Alison and Peter Smithson (1993)
- Cantilever Tables (Kragstuhlmuseum/TECTA, 2003)
- Alison and Peter Smithson: Concepts for the Dwelling (Skira, 2004)
- Alison and Peter Smithson: From the House of the Future to a House of Today edited by Dirk van den Heuvel and Max Risselada (010 Publisher's, 2004)
- Alison and Peter Smithson: The Space Between edited by Max Risselada (Walther König, 2017)
- Alison and Peter Smithson by Mark Crinson (Historic England, 2018)