Private virtues or vices?

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Private vices or virtues? Architects in Search of Aesthetics of Resistance

It is remarkable to observe the good taste and restraint with which the most wildly innovative architects choose their own residence and workspace.

In a photographic series titled ‘Virtues privées et vices publics’, published in the Bulletin des Archives d’Architecture Moderne in 1980-1981 (the citation is taken from nr. 18, 1980: 7, translated from French) architect Léon Krier made a mockery of architects’ distinction between their experimental creations for others, and their own homes. However, as is common in satire, Krier’s critique was somewhat overstated. There, of course, exists a long tradition of architects designing experimental houses for themselves. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin home in Wisconsin (1911), Alvar Aalto’s house in Helsinki (1936), the Charles and Ray Eames case study house in California (1949), Casa Luis Barragán outside Mexico City (1947) and Frank Gehry’s exploded bungalow in Santa Monica (1991) are only a few examples that have gained international recognition because their design challenged (or ‘resisted’) accepted forms and practices inherent to the discipline of architecture.

This symposium, which is at the base of a larger research project, seeks to bring together examples of architects’ houses whose ‘resistance’ surpassed the bounds of the profession and articulated a broader socio-political critique. We are interested in papers that explore how the unique set of conditions typical of an architect’s own home, allows for different – more radical? – forms of social, environmental, or other experiments in living than is possible through commissioned work. But we are also interested in the wider understanding of the ‘figure’ of the architect, as offered, for example in David Harvey’s notion of the ‘Insurgent Architect’ (in Spaces of Hope, 2000): a metaphor for an embodied agent productively taking part in the transformation and (re)construction of everyday life worlds. We posit that when architects, as a specific type of ‘insurgent’, use their own home to channel and test social critique or make political statements, they embark on a tense, yet productive, balancing act between ‘resistance’ and ‘aesthetics’. Because even if architects’ own houses resist accepted mores and norms, their design is often also a calling card for potential clients and therefore commonly strives to be aesthetically pleasing. The architect’s home thus offers a complex and intriguing site for exploring how practitioners attempt to formulate carefully curated socio-political statements, resulting in, we claim, ‘aesthetics of resistance’.

We welcome papers that focus on case studies, preferably but not solely architects’ houses that have not yet been ‘canonized’ (such as Ricardo Bofill’s Fabrica, Michael Reynolds’ Earthships, or Le Corbusier’s Cabanon) and clearly demonstrate how a socio-political statement is expressed through the design of the (personal) home. Examples may include, but are not limited to, self-build initiatives, experiments in industrialised constructions, alternative or collective living experiments, or autonomous houses.

 

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