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Modern House 2

by Clare Melhuish, Editor
Phaidon Press, New York, NY, 2004
240 pp., illus. 300 color and 140 b/w. Paper, $29.95
ISBN: 0-71484-381-4.

Reviewed by Maria Buteler
Department of Art, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls Iowa 50614-0362 USA


As both an architect and a publication designer, I am especially interested in books that enrich my knowledge of both disciplines while also keeping me informed of the latest innovations. Modern House 2 is a good example of this. Beginning with the editor’s introduction, this book surveys the changes in the architectural concept of "house" from early Modernism to the present day in the wake of surprising approaches proposed by Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and other pioneering designers. Inherited by today’s architects, these same ideas are still very apparent in Postmodernism, in architectural attitudes toward construction, spatial organization, and identity. The author discusses how social and cultural contexts are inevitably reflected in architectural planning, and especially in residential design, since the house is the first, most critical setting in which the individual grows. Featured in the book are about 30 houses designed by leading architects from throughout the world, among them Rem Koolhaas, Herzog and de Meuron, Foster & Partners, MVRDV Architects, and so on. Represented are a rich variety of genres, with the purpose of viewing the spectrum of styles in contemporary house design. Although some of the houses are located in widely separate parts of the world and at first appear very different, they all have things in common that make them contemporary. Sometimes these are attributable to the handling of the interior space, the materials used, environmental concerns, or the building’s interaction with an adjacent setting, whether urban or natural.

The contents of the book are grouped into five sections: Environmental Awareness (on the primacy of environmental issues in architectural design); Changing Patterns of Living (on greater flexibility in domestic building design, in light of the advances in technology and communications); Urban Interaction (on the influence of architects on urban life by their design of private houses in existing suburban areas); Rural Retreat (on how houses located outside of urban areas increasingly regarded as permanent living quarters); and Concept House of the Future (on prototypes of houses that address impending future concerns). Throughout the book, I was repeatedly pleased by the way in which each of the 30 projects are analyzed. The discussions are clear, exact and concise, with supplementary comments by the architects themselves. As a result, the reader is genuinely able to know each building and to understand how it works. This is also partly due to the vividness of the book’s photographs, in which striking points of view provide a sense of how it feels to be physically present in each of the structures.

This book is a great opportunity to acquaint oneself with an inspirational collection of contemporary houses designed by gifted architects. The range of the projects——situated in varying contexts and designed with different emphases——gives the reader an understanding of the many, complex factors that influence today's architectural design. Architects and designers will especially enjoy this volume, but others will find it of interest as well.

(Reprinted by permission from Ballast Quarterly Review, Volume 21 Number 1, Autumn 2005.)



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