Why Brazilian Modern Purrs, and Other Insights
Last weekend I attended the Monterey Design Conference at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. Founded in 1979, it was a TED Conference before there was such a thing, only the focus here is always architecture. This year provided even more of a visual feast than usual, with compelling presentations by architects from across the US and around the world. For me the greatest revelation came at the end, with a marvelous presentation by Brazilians Marcio Kogan and Suzana Glogowiski of Studio MK27 in Sao Paolo. Marcio is renowned for his sensuous and ebullient modernism, and he brings his houses to life by filming them.
The one about his dazzling arrangement of horizontal solids and voids known as “Toblerone House” — named for the folding partitions on the upper level, which
mimic the zig-zag shape of the iconic chocolate bar — brought down the house, so to speak. The owners’ extravagantly fluffy and mightily bewhiskered,
architecturally curious, and virtually unflappable Persian cat takes us on a very personal tour. We see the son reading a book on the upper level while he
casually dangles his feet over the concrete ledge, which doubles as the cat’s usual walkway (I’d say the approach to railings is somewhat nonchalant here);
the mother doing yoga on the roof terrace and then dressing at the vanity while the father steps into the shower. Like the cat, these are remarkable clients! We see how each serene, minimalist, indoor-outdoor space beats with color, nature, and life as the cat’s tail twitches to the syncopated sound track. It’s a kind of unabashed but generous voyeurism showing us how people really live — and how the house itself becomes a giant joyful veranda. According to the architects, such films are a way “to show the day by day life of one of our houses, where the architecture is not important.” This is very close to Bay Region architect William Wurster’s statement that “Architecture is about life, and work, and for people: the picture frame and not the picture.” A toast to Modernism at its warmest and most inviting. Marvelous! See the film on Dezeen, here.
Other Conference Connections
Materiality and light were important themes running through the major talks. I concentrated on the residential work — though a wide array of building types and design processes was shown. I liked Fayetteville, Arkansas architect Marlon Blackwell’s remark that “architecture is larger than the subject of architecture,” which echoes the sentiment of Marcio Kogan. Marlon talked about how design often arises from where “the inadvertent meets the purposeful.” A good
example is his “Honey House for a Beekeeper,” where honeycomb suggested a
shape and then the color of the honey in the jar made everything come alive.
New York architect Thomas Phifer showed his exquisitely conceived and meticulously detailed approach to nature through his use of different materials that layer daylight — what I would call the eloquent Art of the Scrim –
in such works as this small house at Salt Point. Sited at the edge of a meadow, it’s an ingenious melding of opposites: both an aloof geometric abstraction for viewing the landscape through a ribbon window-as-lens; and an intimate
gesture of connection to the site through the tall living room window wall and screening wings.
San Francisco architect Anne Fougeron has taken a fresh approach to the bay window in her “Flip House.” This extensive remodel flipped the house’s key
functions — putting the main living areas at the rear where the view was, and
switching the sleeping areas to the street front. You can see the new master suite on the top floor but there’s no hint of the surprise at the rear, where she
oriented the bay widow vertically instead of horizontally, dramatizing the height of the open interior while providing side views across the city (photos by Joe Fletcher, courtesy Fougeron).
Paris architect Odile Decq showed a wide range of building and product designs with a sleek metamorphic character. Her Wally Super Yacht caught my attention
for the brilliant James Bondian re-invention of the tub-shower: when you want to soak you just slide the floor away! (photo courtesy Odile Decq)
Tokyo architect Kenzo Kuma, who has an extraordinarily diverse practice around the world, designed a villa near China’s Great Wall. The sense of continuous
connection that is a feature of the Great Wall became his theme, only he made it
his own by using vertical bamboo, not stone. It’s the wall as both wall and screen, open and closed, part of the landscape while framing it. Now wouldn’t a certain Persian cat like to wander among those poles.