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Posted 01 Nov 2002

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Joost Meuwissen, ‘House near Eindhoven’. Translated by Ronald Corlette-Theuil, L’architecture d’aujourd’hui, 343, novembre-décembre 2002 (Paris: Editions Jean-Michel Place, 2002), 70-71.

House near Eindhoven

Joost Meuwissen

Twenty years ago Mister B. had a house built for his family on the outskirts of a small Brabant village. Mister B. is a franco­phile, so his house – a squat red-brick affair painted white, with small-pane windows and garrets under a tiled roof – reflected the French-style country house then in vogue in the Netherlands. Once it was built the family furnished it and forgot it. Instead of living indoors, they preferred the terrace and the garden. The dog alone liked the interior. The fire constantly bur­ning in the fireplace there attempted to convey the idea of habitat, in vain. The fa­mily preferred sleeping out in the open air.

By purchasing several lots adjoining his garden, Mister B. was able to keep his neighbour from building an eyesore that would have spoiled the view and reduced the family's living space. The garden grew and grew until it joined up with a nature reserve not far away. Garden and land­scape become one. The slight slope and the sandy soil accentuated this effect. Taking his cues from this, the landscaper who laid out the grounds alternated free and ordered plantations laid out in a fan splay, creating several perspectives, none of which formed an axis with the house. The family grew increasingly dissatisfied with the house, which was small, inverted and – compared to the garden – still on its own scale. It needed an extension to open up to the grounds. My office prepa­red a brochure presenting significant examples of houses, to determine the type of architecture the family liked. Among the models presented were the Geerlings country house designed by Rem Koolhaas at Holten, houses by Frank O. Gehry, Ben van Berkel, Belgian architects Stéphane Beel and Luc Reuse, and even examples by Siza and Schinkel. We threw in Palladio´s villa Rotonda too. Nothing in all that was to the taste of the clients. The only construction they liked was Mies van der Rohe´s Farnsworth House, for its huge proportions and also because it floats above ground level. Going on this, I decided to raise the new part by half a metre. The Miesian exten­sion in free plan sticks out like a dyke from the old house. From it the eye now passes out of the building and traverses the entire depth of garden and landscape. The enlarged interior space thus be­comes a sort of landscaped terrace. The opposition between closed house and open garden is abolished. Since landscape is generally devoid of posts (the sky needs no support), neither are there any in the house. Had they been necessary, they would probably have been in the form of miniature high-tension pylons or Eiffel Towers, because, as I have already mentioned, Mister B. likes all things French. One thing is sure: they could never have been palm-shaped, because the land­scape here has a genuine character of landscape, it is not a simple metaphor. The natural scenery – or, as Mies would have said, ‘nature’ – is already there.

The only support in the new part of the house is a ‘quotation’ of a post from the pavilion Mies designed for the Barcelona expo. From the static point of view, it is superfluous, since it might just as well have been part of the wall in the axis of which it is aligned. But it reminds us that with Mies we often find two types of construction: the type that has no static function but that is seen and the type that remains invisible but is vital to stabi­lity. The support also refers to another typically Miesian theme: the relationship between the protecting bearing wall and the glass facade. In the Resor House pro­ject (1937-40), the bearing points are slightly set back from the facade, in inte­rior space. Not until the Farnsworth House (1945-51) do we find them placed directly in front of the glass facade. Seen from the inside, they are part of the exte­rior that is normally without bearing points. Clearly, Mies was not trying to give equal value to interior and exterior, nor suggesting the fusion of two spaces: he was stressing the importance of na­ture. Nowadays we would probably say he wanted to enhance it. “When you look at nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, it takes on a much dee­per meaning than if you were standing out­side. It is the expression of more nature […].”[1] This idealization of ‘nature’ by means of construction derives, I think, from a set­ting into symmetry of interior and exte­rior space. The posts stand on the axis of symmetry. They belong to neither inside nor outside. Nor do they generate an ‘intermediate space’ or define a frame. The eye moving from interior towards exterior always passes beside a post or between two posts. This effect is rein­forced by the fact that the glass surfaces of the facade stop at each post.[2] Our house near Eindhoven does not offer views of nature in a fake ‘natural’ state, on the English model, but in an extremely contrived state. The planta­tions in fan splay guide the eye alternati­vely in two directions. In the first, we dis­cover a perspective whose vanishing point is scanned by two huge ceramic jars from the island of Java. In the second, the perspective leads to the nature reserve. Originally, both sight-lines were conditioned by the limits of the property. The way in which they have been set into place is more or less due to chance. But the result is total control of views. This situation does not lay claim, like Mies, to symmetry between interior and exterior space, but to a flexible order capable of structuring the scope of the panorama. The facade that gives onto the garden is thus composed of three mobile (sliding) elements on a horizontal plane: sliding doors in stainless steel, mosquito netting on the outer side and fabric blinds, which also slide, on the inner side. The succes­sion of elements and their layering produces variable intervals and rhythms. There is no geometrical relationship with regard to the whole of the bearing struc­ture – nor was any intended.

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[1]  Ludwig Mies van der Rohe talking to Christian Norberg-Schulz in L´architecture d´aujourd´hui, 79, September, 1958, p. 100, quoted by Wolf Tegethoff, Mies van der Rohe. The Villas and Country Houses (New York: MoMa, 1985), 130.

[2]  130-131.


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