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© Photograph by Bas Princen.


Posted 03 Dec 2000

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Urs Primas, ‘Sampling from the catalogue of architectural history. The perfect solution for a dream villa’. Translated from the German by Michael Robinson, Werk, Bauen + Wohnen, Nr.12, Dezember 2000, 87./54. Jahrgang (Zurich: Verlag Werk AG, 2000), 68.

Sampling from the catalogue of architectural history. The perfect solution for a dream villa

Urs Primas

In an attempt to counteract uncontrolled over-development, the Ticino Tendenza devised a demanding architectural culture that aimed at re-creating “places” out of ruined contexts. The One Architecture office in Amsterdam proposes a different kind of therapy for suburbia, treat­ing “wild” development areas as starting points for – and not as impedi­ments to – design explorations revolving around individualism and hedonism. The juxtaposition of functions, motives and longings is pragmatically exploited in development studies, in individual objects and in an exten­sion to an existing villa near Eindhoven. Thus the annex placed in a large garden is not so much an autonomous volume as a boundless eversion in which the motifs and spaces of classic modernity flow freely together. 

“Pornography without suburbia would be politically incorrect. Subur­bia without pornography would be boring.” Quoting the American archi­tectural theoretician Michael Speaks, Matthijs Bouw and Joost Meuwissen of One Architecture explore their own work in the essay ‘Pornography from Suburbia’.[1] They identify two themes there, which they see as parallel de­scriptions of the same movement: pornography on the one hand, under­stood as direct fulfilment of a desire, not mediated by a formal set of rules about decency or discipline. Then sub­urbia, understood as the possibility of having individualized life patterns, and as a city of points and fields, in con­trast with the linear organization of the nineteenth-century city.
It is possible to formulate a dou­ble design strategy on this basis. The various impulses or wishful notions behind a commission have to be trans­lated as directly as possible into dif­ferent, simple elements. Then the way these “points” relate to each other has to be formulated as an open system, or field. One Architecture's master plan for Maxglan near Salzburg could be taken as an example of this kind of approach. Instead of organizing the whole area using a newly invented form, this project allows forms to emerge from specific, local necessities and desires. The starting-point is the repetition and differentiation of “things that are already there and are beautiful.” It became clear from a meeting the architects held with the
residents of Maxglan that people were in fact quite happy with their untidy, loosely arranged suburb, and did not want anything new. A plan was produced that leaves everything as it was to a certain extent, but picks up and intensifies certain possibilities that were present in the loose suburban configuration.
Bouw and Meuwissen found a similar way into a design project for their first realized commission, an ex­tension for a detached house built fif­teen years ago in the French rural vil­la style. The first thing the architects did was to show their clients a cata­logue of famous villas of the last five hundred years. The family was al­lowed to choose its dream villa from this “Best of” collection from Palladio to Koolhaas. Once more it was not a form invented by the architects, but a process of “mapping” the clients' particular preferences and secret desires that was to be the starting-point for the design. This in the conviction that the great stock of architectural histo­ry would provide a solution that could be brought up to date to meet their problem. The family chose Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House – be­cause of the spaciousness and open­ness of Mies's architecture, but above all because of the way the raised liv­ing room related to the garden, which they had constantly extended since the first house was built by buying ad­jacent plots.
And exactly that survived from the Mies sample, built it into the kitschy detached house by One Architecture: a raised living platform stretching into the garden like a stage, imbued with an open and spacious quality that extends deep into the bowels of the little house and completely cancels out any sense of poki­ness. But apart from this, the Modern icon is scarcely recognizable after it has been subsumed into suburban ba­nality. The bathroom and sauna clasp the twenty metre long glass façade with its sliding doors almost symmet­rically. A neoclassical cornice in stain­less steel completes the top of the structure. The raised living platform does not float above nature but is bed­ded in the garden as a plinth. The “re­-Schinkel-ing” of the Farnsworth sam­ple reveals and puts into overdrive a possibility that was latent in the work of Mies: the contamination of the Modern with the classical – “not so much fitting the classical into the Modern dialectically, but stemming or exceeding the classical.”[2]
The interior is designed like a Miesian plan as an open configuration of independent elements. But here too the architects work out another pos­sibility, beyond the “great harmony” of the modern master. The individual parts are not designed by a single hand, but contain fragments of vari­ous architectural languages. For ex­ample, the sliding doors between the living and the sleeping area were literally taken over from OMA's Linthorst House in Rotterdam. The topography of the bathroom floor is a reference to the computer-generated architecture of Lars Spuybroek. Unlike postmod­ern quotations, which are intended to add an additional, highly meaningful plane to the building, the architectur­al quotations here are used primarily as existing perfect solutions for certain design problems. Like the landscape in the Salzburg master plan, the fluid Miesian space allows these funda­mentally different things to develop independently of each other, and af­fect each other. In this way the archi­tects carefully avoid imposing any kind of unity, any over-arching order, on the independent elements. Thus the sliding door to the bedroom and its enormous brush are placed direct­ly against the glass façade, without a post. The post would have brought the glass façade and the sliding door together as components of a system, of a piece of interior design, and split the long space into a bedroom and a living room.

Mies strove to achieve “great har­mony, from the principal idea to the final details” in architecture. He saw details as a means of elucidating the actual basic idea.[3] So he applied his fa­mous “decorative” I-beams to the ex­terior of the Lakeshore Drive towers, to make the naked structure into an “expression.” But One Architecture put their neoclassical roof cornice together from the kind of technical gadgets that people need on terraces nowadays – radiant heaters, anti-mos­quito UV lamps and a gigantic, re­tractable awning. One Architecture's remix turns Miesian idealism upside down – shifting the emphasis from the main idea to the details. “The impres­sive thing about pornographic films as opposed to other erotic films is the absolute realism with which they are filmed. No soft light. They come straight to the point. The viewer gets exactly what he wants.”[4]

See the full project

Read the architect´s comment

Read the comment by Benedicte Grosjean


[1]  One Architecture, Urban Projects, Berlin 1998.

[2]  Peter Eisenman, ‘miMISes READING: does not mean A THING’, 1987, or also Manfred Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co, Modern Archi­tecture, New York 1982.

[3]  From an interview with Mies van der Rohe, documentary film by Michael Blackwood, WDR 1985.

[4]  One Architecture, Urban Projects, Berlin 1998.

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