JTwenty years ago, an architectural bomb exploded in Hackney, east London. It was a small and charming bombshell, with no casualties, in a color between baby blue and sky blue, with curious shapes – old Dutch gables inspired by an Amsterdam postcard, silhouette of a tree, idea of child of a house – cut in its bordered exterior. But he did a then-scandalous act in architectural circles, of reviving postmodernism, the decorative style tainted by its association with office buildings and shopping malls bloated with 1980s corporate excess.
The Blue House, as it is known, helped bring some fame but not much fortune to its architects, Fashion Architecture Taste, or FAT, until they announced their breakup in 2013. however, not much changed the trajectory of architecture. . He did not launch a revolution of what one might call post-postmodernism. His big idea was that architecture could be like pop art, that it could combine artistic sophistication with a direct appeal to everyday culture, that it could draw on the themes of notable architects of the past while still offering pictures that a child could get. So the gable and shaft shapes came with a layered and intricate interior that owes something to Adolf Loos and John Soane. The world was somehow not ready for that.
In recent years, however, there has been a gradual exploration of the waters FAT boldly entered at the turn of the century. Postpostpostmodernism, perhaps. One manifestation is the Red House, a new home in Dorset for an art dealer, her accountant husband and their young daughter. It is designed by David Kohn, the architect who, together with artist Fiona Banner, created a temporary one-bedroom boat-shaped hotel perched on Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
Red House is a long, two-story rectangle with a large slate roof. It features tall chimneys, curved bays, and openings in the shape of circles and semicircles. The windows and the door of an end facade recall the eyes and the mouth of a face. Complementary colors complement each other: a vibrant green for ironwork and wood, and red brick walls. It announces clearly, almost in a caricatural way, that it is a house. At the same time, it offers clues and diversions for connoisseurs of architecture. He owes an obvious debt to the Arts and Crafts houses of around 1900, built for discerning patrons in places such as the Lake District, the Malvern Hills or what is now London’s Greenbelt. It is especially reminiscent of CFA Voysey, the main exponent of this style.
There is also a bit of mid-century Philadelphian Louis Kahn, a romantic lover of massive masonry, and something of James Stirling, the British architect who from the 1950s until his death in 1992 fun to face powerful shapes and colors. Inside, on the first floor, there is a vaulted hallway inspired by the Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan, whose exquisite 1930s interiors made a memorable setting for the film starring Tilda Swinton. I am love.
The house is composed, as in a piece of music, with a complexity and a difference playing on an overall structure. Inside, an axis runs through the center of the house, leading you to the views of the garden and the landscape beyond, around which contrasting spaces unfold: a semicircular dining room, a bright kitchen, an alcove of study opening on the first landing of the ground floor, a master bedroom in which the concave curve of the interior of a bay meets the triangular shape of the underside of the roof, for a subtle and similar effect to a tent. A staircase with rococo curves connects the two floors. Ample storage spaces, which help keep the interiors clean and tidy, punctuate the plan.
The rooms are high or low, wide or cramped, with light coming from different angles and views offered in several directions. The scale is a bit surprising: the passageways and doorways, partly out of concern for making the house wheelchair accessible, are taller and wider than normal. At the same time, the interior is finished with calm, cohesive functionality – white painted concrete block walls and wood block floors – which brings overall consistency to the variety of shapes and spaces.
Outside, the bricks are laid horizontally, as is conventional, but sometimes vertically. There is a logic to this which may be lost to the casual observer, namely that the vertical bricks indicate the location of more functional spaces, such as bathrooms and storage rooms, which serve the main living areas . There is also a slight overhang in the masonry at first floor level. Again, it’s a subtlety that many won’t notice, but even though that and the brick patterns add to the cost, Kohn’s customers were happy to pay for it. The house is (among other things) a work of art, it is their point of view, and one must trust its architect to do it in his own way.
La Maison Bleue and Maison Rouge play with your expectations of scale, surface area and appearance. What looks flat can be substantial, and vice versa. Either way, the outside tells you something about the inside, but not precisely. The Blue House, which included a studio as well as a house, has both the latticed windows of a workplace and domestic pitched roof forms, but they do not match the locations of these indoor uses. . The Red House is the more polished of the two, where the multiple elements are more likened to each other.
The Blue House delights more in its incongruities, to which is added another layer. It was originally built for Sean Griffiths, one of the founders of FAT, and his partner at the time, landscape architect Lynn Kinnear. The two no longer live together, but Griffiths has designed an interior makeover and extension to the top of the house for Kinnear that includes a contemplative study opening onto a roof garden. The new work is completely different from the original, but it has the same spirit.
Here, new materials and colors are added to what was already a rich palette – pebble walls, a profiled sheet metal roof, pink, yellow, green. The roof structure adds another house shape to those already present, as well as a somewhat brutalist bay window. “A rooftop beach house,” Kinnear calls it, and the interior is a surprisingly serene escape, with views of the chimneys and towers of London. “What the rest would have looked like if I had been a good architect back then,” is how Griffiths describes it.
Kohn doesn’t exactly consider himself a follower of FAT, but he shares some of their interests and appreciates their “tremendous generosity.” He says they “did a brilliant job of expanding the architecture, of trying to open up what is right. It was a project to recover a lot of lost fun. Perhaps now, at last, the architectural world is ready to hear their messages.