Book review: Architects at Home

Peeking inside some of the world's best-known architects' homes provides insight into how they inject interior design flair into their own personal philosophies.

The recently released Architects at Home by Images Publishing presents a survey of architects’ own homes located around the world—specifically, a few European countries, the U.S. and Australia. While a more balanced selection from a wider global scope would have been appreciated, the projects featured are a pleasing demonstration of how architects design these most intimate domestic spaces for themselves and their families.

What better than to experiment and test one’s ideologies through the design of one’s own home? As an embodiment and personal expression of the architect’s beliefs, experiences and ambitions, each project in the book moves well beyond merely a nice place to live and becomes a personal manifesto. It allows the architect to make full use of her toolkit: the experiential qualities of the home are achieved through material innovation, sculpting space with light, manipulating circulation, and merging interior and exterior to strengthen the connection to nature. A pressing focus on sustainability and reducing environmental footprint is necessary and welcome given the current reality of the climate crisis.

A variety of contexts—from the tight urban confines of south London to the vast, open landscape of rural Idaho—determine formal responses to site and manifest in such typologies as tower, bridge and shed, and everything in between. Historical context is also critical: in Brisbane, Terry McQuillan designed a new, two-storey expansion to an existing cottage dating from the early 20th century. A louvered breezeway separates the two contrasting forms, respecting the integrity and heritage of the modestly scaled cottage while the project in its entirety achieves a masterful integration between old and new.

Recipient of the Manser Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, Carl Turner’s Slip House in London’s Brixton neighbourhood presents a translucent icy façade to the street. Comprised of vertical glass panels attached to a steel and concrete frame, the extremely energy-efficient home occupies a compact site amongst Victorian-era homes within a dense urban context. Three cantilevering boxes ‘slip’ past each other in a stacked, sculptural assemblage, and are designed with flexibility in mind: at one time the house accommodated independent functions of both studio workspace and residence, but can also serve as a single-family residence.

Carl Turner’s Slip House, London.

A house as a container for art is nothing new, but Corbett Lyon’s Housemuseum in Melbourne represents a new hybrid typology of private home and public museum that showcases the architect’s own contemporary art collection. A bold but judicious use of colour and graphic patterning characterize the interior, complementing the diverse and numerous artworks mounted and installed throughout the house. Landscaped courtyards extend the experience to the outdoors, with large sculptural pieces on prominent display.

Corbett Lyon’s Housemuseum, Melbourne.

David Thompson’s home in Los Angeles’ Laurel Hills neighbourhood comprises three low-slung pavilions clad in red cedar and charcoal cement-board panel linked by corridors of glass, forming courtyards that bring the harmonious relationship between indoors and outdoors into sharp focus. Amongst a landscape of wild grasses, olive trees and concrete pavers, a 40-foot-long swimming pool in the rear courtyard invites residents and guests to gather. Transparency and light are other key characteristics of the project, enhanced by an open plan that encourages fluidity of circulation.

These are just a few highlights amongst the 43 projects featured in Architects at Home, but each is certain to reveal both the pleasures and challenges of designing a home for oneself.

Leslie Jen is the author of Canadian Architecture: Evolving a Cultural Identity and former Associate Editor of Canadian Architect.