Prizes for RECORD, as we raise the curtain on our annual honors for best residential design.

Here at Architectural Record, we work not only to bring you the best contemporary projects but also to report on the most critical issues confronting the profession today. That's why we're particularly proud of the recognition we've received from American Business Media's annual Jesse H. Neal awards—the Oscars for magazines like ours. RECORD won three of the big prizes: two for our special issue “Building for Social Change” (March 2012) and one for best single issue for “New Life for the American City” (October 2012). We were finalists for three other awards.

Cathleen McGuigan, Editor in Chief
Photo © Michael Arnaud

While covering such significant topics is a big part of our current mission—last month we presented new models for social housing—we also know how to have fun with the magazine's long traditions. With this issue of Record Houses, we're continuing our popular annual feature, first published in 1956. For the architects whose projects are chosen by our editors, the designation “Record House” has become a major honor. For readers, both inside the profession and out, the issue is a chance to see the best domestic design from around the world.

Recently, I sat on a jury for house of the year in New Zealand. Well, not sat, actually: we the judges of the awards (given each year by Home NZ magazine) flew, drove, and ferried all over that small country, visiting 11 short-listed projects in six days. What was most striking was how well the best-designed houses, though rooted in Western modernism, were tuned to the local climate and landscape. Site conditions would seem to be an obvious springboard for architecture everywhere, but we all know acclaimed designs that turn their back on where they're built.

This year's seven Record Houses all reflect a strong modernist sensibility, too (though the idiosyncratic house near Osaka, Japan, by Sou Fujimoto, whose quirky experiments defy categorization, is in a class by itself). Yet they are distinctive not only because of varying budgets and client demands but because, like those New Zealand houses, each design was strongly influenced by its setting.

Consider the stunning residence in Arizona by DUST architects, their first major project. Its open, boxlike pavilions, with rammed-earth walls (yes, the designers are disciples of Tucson architect Rick Joy) seem to grow out of the desert floor, while the roof terrace was created for nighttime communing with the stars. In the pine woods of a sleepy Argentine beach town, BAK Arquitectos built an austere and simple summer house of poured-in-place concrete that retains the imprint of wood grain from the formwork made by a local carpenter. Tree trunks shoot up through holes in the outdoor wooden deck, too—though there are less obvious ways for a dwelling to engage a forest. Thomas Gluck's Tower House in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York is “a cross between a modernist skyscraper and a tree house,” as RECORD editor Joann Gonchar describes the glass box elevated high up in the leafy canopy, with nothing rustic about its sleek look. The architect wanted, he said, “to make a building about the experience of being in the woods without having the materials be natural.”

Of course, the American master of architecture inspired by nature was Frank Lloyd Wright. In this issue, we're exceptionally pleased to bring you Wright's Fir Tree House from 1948. Haven't heard of it? The dramatic shingled wood lodge—with its monumental stone fireplace and a unique system of rafters in the soaring living room—is one of the architect's least-known structures, with interiors that have never before been published. Still owned by a descendant of the family who commissioned it, the house was recently refurbished but retains every aspect of its original design—including all the furniture, created by Wright.

Landing this elaborately rusticated summer house for these pages was something of a journalistic coup—and publishing great journalism is what we aspire to every day at RECORD. We're grateful and proud to be recognized by the Neal awards for our success in bringing you the best.