New-Old Modern Houses

Modern Masters Class

Modernism in architecture is often associated with newness but that newness is now well over one hundred years old. Yet work by towering figures like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe retains its youth. Two big modern ideas — the desire to express a building’s structure, and the use of abstract machine-like forms to shape space — are especially powerful. Take Corbu’s

novel double house at Weissenhof, of 1927 in Stuttgart, for example (photo  courtesy Magic Cities). The two houses share a single rectilinear envelope. Architectural elements are reduced to support posts, white wall, ribbon windows, and rooftop canopy. This latter feature takes abstraction to a new height — literally — since it is both wall and roof. The attached houses were built as part of a remarkable demonstration neighborhood by the

Deutscher Werkbund to demonstrate progressive home design (the Corbusian house is in the distance and indistinct in this postcard view, courtesy OttoWagner.com). The Werkbund was a hugely influential German association of artists, architects, designers, and industrialists aiming to integrate traditional crafts and mass-production techniques. Interiors were experimental: partitions

moved, and beds rolled into cabinets to save space (photo courtesy The Blanton Museum of Art via Pinterest). Many years ago when I visited Weissenhof on a gray wintry day, the buildings looked worn down and in need of repair and it was difficult to imagine how fresh, new, and even radical they must have seemed at the opening in 1927. Now after a major preservation effort, Corbu’s double house is resplendent; one side has been restored to original condition; the other has become a permanent showcase for the history of Werkbund exhibitions since their inception in 1907. You can tour both through the Weissenhof Museum.

Mies was the overall director of the Weissenhof project — which included work by other modern architects including Hans Sharoun, Bruno Taut, and Walter Gropius. And Mies was about to begin the design of his famous concrete and glass Tugendhat house in Brno, Czech Republic, of 1930, which illustrated concepts of flexible open space and the treatment of structure as an elemental

even ornamental frame (photo courtesy Unesco). Here the ornament is the structure itself, particularly that extraordinary onyx wall in the background.

Meet Latvian architect Māris Šodnaks

Māris is the newest international member of our Exclusive Studio. A graduate of Riga Technical University, Maris’s company Delta Projects Latvia, SIA  has designed a suite of modern plans — and he acknowledges a strong Corbusian

influence. Here’s his Plan 549-3. The 1,505 sq. ft. plan carves into and out of the flat box shape: in Corbusian fashion the porch is incorporated within the

rectilinear outline. The layout contains four bedrooms and two baths and a living area separated from the dining area and kitchen by a slim partition. The covered porch wraps around the living room and the master suite. His Plan 549-1 takes a

more Miesian approach, and expresses the posts and beams over the porch, which reminds me of Mie’s Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Harboe Architects acted as the preservation architects in the restoration of the south porch (photo courtesy Harboe). So the old is new again and again — and again!

One Response to New-Old Modern Houses

  1. Continuing to enjoy your weekly emails. Keep them coming. – Ron Wellander, Landscape Achitect. P.S. More William Turnbull Jr. would also be great.

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