Big on Small
Reading Blueprint Small: Creative Ways to Live with Less is like sitting down with a favorite home magazinein this case, one devoted entirely to small spaces. Each project is explored in several photos and a surprising amount of text, a combination giving the reader a clear sense of how the spaces flow and how the owners think. “Item(s) of interest” blurbs give helpful information about furniture, countertops or other details in the rooms.
The rooms are pretty fantastic, compact and efficient while highly stylish and distinct. In a 1,600-square-foot, 30th-floor apartment in Chicago, a sleek minimalist interior is fitted out with smooth wood panels and frosted glass doors. Everything is understated except for the black leather chaise by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand strategically placed in front of one of the windows. Contrast this with a 750-square-foot California home in which original 1930s built-ins play a central role in the re-design.
In her introduction, Blueprint Small author Michelle Kodis writes of her decision to focus on smaller homes in the face of a growing trend toward expansive ones. Ironically, several of the projects in Blueprint Small are used only as temporary or secondary homes. For example, one 920-square-foot project is a pool/guesthouse, while an architect and his wife shared a 900-square-foot apartment only while a larger home was being remodeled. Then there’s the renovation/salvaging of a 520-square-foot barn, transforming it into a master suite and guestroom.
Knowing that many of the book’s homeowners have more space stashed elsewhere doesn’t diminish the appeal of the structures. All of them are clever responses to rigid parameters or restrictive lots. Perhaps the best example of this is the Colorado home of Rhode Island School of Design-trained architect Scott Lindenau. The 2,400-square-foot Lindenau house is a light-flooded two-story structure with raised ceilings (a common characteristic of Blueprint Small homes) and a kitchen filled with stainless steel appliances. It is home to a family of four and a lodgerand it is built on a lot measuring 70 x 40 feet.
By Michelle Kodis (Gibbs Smith, $24.95, 192 pp., April 2003)
Charles-...douard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965), earned quite a reputation for his iconic furniture of tubular steel, leather and glass, his writings on architecture and his signature buildings. Often raised on stilts, and with black-accented windows, the white concrete structures cut fine figures on the landscape. They were prone, however, to drafts and leaks and were tolerated, if not embraced, by their owners. Kenneth Frampton examines several private residences, public buildings and multi-family dwellings in Le Corbusier: Architect of the Twentieth Century.
He is up-front about the problematic nature of the buildings. “It is a measure of the daring inventiveness of Le Corbusier and [his cousin and architectural partner] Pierre Jeanneret that they constantly overreached themselves technically,” he writes. Much as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is revered despite its quirks, Frampton (and many others) still consider Le Corbusier’s work to be masterful.
One building that was both beautiful to look at and to live in was the Villa Sarabhai (1951-1955) in Ahmedabad, India. Though Le Corbusier might have been frustrated by the commissioning resident’s refusal to go along with some of his plans, at least the house is still enjoyed by the Sarabhai family. Other Le Corbusier buildings have not always fared so well, some languishing in disrepair for years before private foundations can restore them.
Le Corbusier offers wonderful views into the Villas La Roche-Jeanneret (1923-1925), the stunning Chapel of Nôtre Dame-du-Haut (1950-1955), and many others. Unfortunately, there are no interior views of apartments in Geneva’s Clarté apartment building (1930-1933). This is regrettable, especially given that Frampton considers it “one of the finest modern buildings” in the city and reports that it is still a fashionable address. Two of Le Corbusier’s own addresses are shown, however. One, a penthouse atop the Porte Molitor building (1933) in Paris, was his home for 32 years. The other, a 144-square-foot vacation cabin built in 1952, was a favorite site to which he returned annually for painting trips.
By Kenneth Frampton; principal photography by Roberto Schezen (Abrams Books, $65, 208 pp.)
Narrow lots, weirdly sloping terrain and other troublesome sites are the norm in Landscrapers: Building with the Land. Author Aaron Betsky is director of the Rotterdam-based Netherlands Design Institute, as well as a Metropolitan Home contributing editor. Landscrapers highlights structures designed to meld with the landoften highlighting the very conditions deemed challenging.
Though located in disparate places, the projects appear extraordinarily similarat least on paper. All are strikingly modernistic, almost futuristic. Some seem more the work of sculptors than of architects, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Other designs clearly demonstrate Betsky’s theme, among them Renzo Piano’s cliff-hugging offices in Genoa, Italy. This terraced building not only mimics ancient architecture, but from certain angles is almost indistinguishable from the hillside.
Meanwhile, another project, the Dutch pavilion at the 2000 World Expo in Hannover, Germany, didn’t attempt to blend in. Rising five stories, the boxy void-filled structure, did, however, mimic clever uses of land in the Netherlands. Keeping the footprint (the land needed for a building) small allowed architects MVRDV to plant a field of grass, wildflowers and the country’s signature flower. Lines of people snaked through the green space awaiting their turn to enter the pavilion. Once inside, visitors emerged from a glass elevator to find sloping hills sprinkled with modern windmills on the uppermost level. Taking the stairs down through the building, they encountered a simulated rain forest floor.
By Aaron Betsy (Thames & Hudson Inc., $50, 192 pp.)
Stone Houses: Colonial to Contemporary is a chronological exploration of stone structures in America, starting with prehistoric cave dwellings in the West. From there, architectural historian and preservation expert Lee Goff moves on to Pennsylvania Dutch, colonial, Greek Revival and Queen Anne houses.
At the end of the 19th century things really start to get interesting. Traditional styles, symmetry and period furniture is out and expressive, expanded structures of the Gilded Age are in. Boulder Point in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., is pictured against a backdrop of trees at the height of autumn color. It was built for a tobacco magnate in 1890, when the super rich commissioned summer “cottages” and retreats.
Goff doesn’t linger on conspicuous consumption. She soon moves on to Chestnut Hill, Pa., where houses designed for smaller budgets show off Tudor Revival and French country styles. These homes, some dripping in ivy, are perfectly suited for the central Pennsylvania landscape.
Modernist architectsthough commonly associated with glass, steel and the tenets of prefabricationwere also taken with the possibilities of working with stone. A spectacular image of the Hooper House (1960) living room decorated with an Eames lounge chair and a magenta-filled Matisse print opens the 20th century chapter of the book with a bang. Bauhaus alumnus Marcel Breuer designed this house with Herbert Beckhard.
Stone Houses also includes a couple of stunning Frank Lloyd Wright homes, one of which is featured on the cover. Built in 1953, Kentuck Knob in Pennsylvania is a circular structure whose sandstone walls are bathed in the warm cognac tones of its cypress accents. Rising magnificently out of its site, it is both organic and fortress-likea modern masterpiece embodying the best qualities of stone architecture.
By Lee Goff, with photos by Paul Rochelau (Abrams Books, $60, 240 pp.)
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