Robert Venturi’s iconic 1964 house for his mother in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, a departure from the “less is more” ideal of his architectural peers at the time, offered a strong but subtle statement. In his own words, its gabled form created “an almost symbolic image of a house.”
These days, you can forget subtlety. A string of recent projects takes an in-your-face approach to revive the gable once again. In Tokyo, Sou Fujimoto stacks prototypical house shapes three stories high in a wood structure. In Zaandam, the Netherlands, Delft-based WAM Architecten goes further, or higher, with its 12-story, blocklike composition of traditional cottages from Holland’s northern Zaan region. Herzog & de Meuron plays a game of Jenga with extruded versions of the same shape for VitraHaus in Vitra’s architectural park in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
Fittingly, the buildings are, respectively: collective housing, a hotel, and a showroom for home furnishings — in essence, a permanent home, a temporary home, and an ideal home.
But while Venturi’s house may have helped to usher in architecture’s Postmodern era, what can be made of this new phenomenon? Is the completion of these three strikingly similar projects within months of each other merely a coincidence, or do they reflect a new tendency in architecture?
From Japan to Germany to the Netherlands, the very fact that these “domestic” projects have popped up around the world suggests that architecture, and the profession’s increasingly international scope, is responding to a common condition of contemporary society, and of globetrotting architects in particular. It is the global nature of modern life that has us longing for the comforts of home.