Architects House Themselves

There exists a long tradition of architects designing houses for themselves, many of them becoming historically notable works of architecture because of experimentation, a mix of living and working spaces, and an obviously unique architect-client relationship. Think of Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park and his Taliesin estates in Wisconsin and Arizona; Alvar Aalto's house in Helsinki; Walter Gropius's house ten miles from Harvard; the Charles and Ray Eames House in California; Luis Barragán's House and Studio outside Mexico City; Frank Gehry's exploded bungalow in Santa Monica. The list of architects and houses goes on, with pre-20th-century examples found in Thomas Jefferson's plantation home at Monticello and Sir John Soane's house-museum in London, to name just two.
Even as architects continue to design houses for themselves and their families, very little attention is given to the unique circumstances these projects represent. How do architects design for themselves? What experiments do they incorporate that can't be done with traditional clients? What are the stories behind the design and realization of an architect's own house? As a means of answering these and other questions, this "Insight" collects some houses of architects with profiles on World-Architects. Since this architect-client situation isn't geographically unique, we've assembled one house from many of our national platforms, grouped by larger geographical area—Europe, Americas, Asia/Oceania. These houses illustrate that the tradition of "architects housing themselves" is still alive, producing some of tomorrow's historically notable works of architecture.


Propeller Z, Flag. Photo: Hertha Hurnaus 


Propeller Z

In 2006, Philipp Tschofen and Carmen Wiederin of Propeller Z came across an orchard and 200-year-old farmhouse about 50km (30 miles) north of Vienna at an asking price too good to pass up. The architects notched out one corner of the partially bermed, "U"-shaped building and added a slightly elevated rectangular bar to it (above is a view of the end of that bar with the roof of the farmhouse in the distance). This resulted in a flag-shaped plan and an addition that takes advantage of southern views that the courtyard plan had turned its back on.

Propeller Z, Flag. Photo: Hertha Hurnaus 
The addition is comprised of prefab panels articulated like a thickened aluminum skin that frames the all-glass southern wall. Interior surfaces are equally minimal: concrete floors and plywood on the walls and ceilings. Tschofen installed the interior finishes, and designed and built furniture as a means of keeping down the budget and experimenting with how to use the space. 


Werner Sobek, R128. Photo: Roland Halbe 


Werner Sobek

One of the most famous glass boxes that serves as an architect's own house is certainly Philip Johnson's aptly named Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. The building's thermal inefficiency hardly makes it a precedent for other glass-box residences, but engineer Werner Sobek applied decades of ensuing technical development to a four-story hillside house for himself, his wife, and son to create well-insulated spaces that require very little energy to heat and cool. The primary means of creating year-round comfort is a special triple-glazing with a metal-coated film and inert gases between panes achieving a k-value (measure of thermal conductivity) of 0.4.
Werner Sobek, R128. Photo: Roland Halbe 
What little electrical energy is required for a heat-pump system and for powering the house, including its myriad sensors and touch screens, is achieved through rooftop solar cells. Further sustainable considerations come in the form of the modular structure, comprised solely of mortise-and-tenon and bolted connections—it was erected in only four days and can be dismantled easily and reused. The open plans and selective openings in the 6-bay structure ensure dramatic views in all directions.


Vomsattel Wagner Architekten, Studio and Residence. Photo: Thomas Andenmatten, Brig 


Vomsattel Wagner Architekten
Studio and Residence

The studio house for Gerold Vomsattel and Rita Wagner is located in Gampel in Switzerland's beautiful Rhone Valley. The building takes advantage of the valley's views through the orientation of the house's two linear bars slipped relative to each other in plan. Concrete walls ensure the building stands out in the landscape.
Vomsattel Wagner Architekten, Studio and Residence. Photo: Thomas Andenmatten, Brig 
What started as a house and studio for the architects turned into a multi-generational project with an apartment for Vomsattel's mother and the accommodation of his brother's large family. The shifted bars in plan allow for separation and privacy while maintaining propinquity below the tilted roof. Yet it's the exquisite concrete walls and floors—structure and skin in one—that unify the different parts and give the project its strong presence.



Marlon Blackwell Architect, L-Stack House. Photo: Timothy Hursley 


Marlon Blackwell Architect
L-Stack House
Fayetteville, Arkansas

When Marlon Blackwell and his wife, and firm principal, Meryati Johari Blackwell looked for a site to build a house for their family of four, they opted for an awkward 1/4-acre lot in Fayetteville within walking distance of elementary schools, a city park, and the University of Arkansas, where Marlon is Department Head in the Fay Jones School of Architecture. A seasonal stream crisscrosses the trapezoidal site, something they celebrated through the design of the house rather than covering.
Marlon Blackwell Architect, L-Stack House. Photo: Timothy Hursley 
The house's L-Stack moniker refers to the way it is made up of two linear bars that sit perpendicular to each other, overlapping at the main entry. The lower bar traverses the stream and contains the living spaces, while the upper bar and its bedrooms parallel the water feature; a glass stair (photo above) links these two volumes. Brazilian redwood is stacked to create a louvered horizontal effect on the exterior, softening the modern house in its northwest Arkansas context.


Brooks + Scarpa, Solar Umbrella. Photo: Marvin Rand 


Brooks + Scarpa Architects
Solar Umbrella

The name of the house for Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa (completed when the firm was Pugh + Scarpa Architecture) and their son directly refers to Paul Rudolph's 1953 Umbrella House in Sarasota, Florida. Instead of the metal louvers of the earlier design, Brooks and Scarpa articulated the "umbrella" as a solar skin that takes care of close to 100% of the house's electrical needs. 
Brooks + Scarpa, Solar Umbrella. Photo: Marvin Rand 
The project is the transformation of an existing bungalow on the site. Brooks and Scarpa reoriented the living spaces and opened them toward the yard in the front of the site. An addition on the south creates more living space and the master suite upstairs, and it acts as the armature for the solar umbrella, which wraps over the master bedroom's terrace to shade the outdoor space as it also serves sustainable goals.


GLUCK+, Tower House. Photo: Paul Warchol 


Tower House
Ulster County

Near the start of his architectural career, Peter Gluck bought about 20 acres (8 hectares) in upstate New York, and in the ensuing 4 decades he has added a guesthouse and a study space for his wife. The most recent addition to the property overlooking the Catskill Mountains is the Tower House for Thomas Gluck, Peter's son and a partner at GLUCK+ (the recently renamed firm merges Peter Gluck and Partners with ARCS, the construction-management firm that he established to build the firm's designs).
GLUCK+, Tower House. Photo: Paul Warchol 
The Tower House acts as a vacation house for Thomas Gluck, his wife, and their two children. Bedrooms are stacked next to the stair core, lifting the living space to the top of the building where it cantilevers to provide panoramic views. The stair tower also serves to ventilate warm air, keeping the house comfortable in the summer months and without the need for air conditioning.



Lyons, Lyon Housemuseum. Photo: Dianna Snape Photography 


Lyon Housemuseum
Kew, VIC

As the name indicates, the Lyon Housemuseum is a hybrid residence and cultural institution. Located in an eastern suburb of Melbourne, the house of Lyons co-founder Corbett Lyon and his wife Yueji Lyon is also used to display artwork to the public on designated days by appointment. The long-term goal is to turn the building and collection over as a public museum, what can be seen as a parallel with Sir John Soane's house-museum in London.
Lyons, Lyon Housemuseum. Photo: Dianna Snape Photography 
The dark zinc skin of the building and the brick perimeter wall spelling out the intersection of Cotham and Florence indicate that something different is happening in this residential neighborhood. At the heart of the project is a double-height, white-box gallery space that is glimpsed from other spaces through long windows that follow the art on the walls. A two-story black box at the rear of the house, just like the dark exterior, contrasts with the gallery.


Ismet - Bimal Residence. Photo: Sachin Desai 


Ismet - Bimal Residence

Hasmukh Patel started HCP Design and Project Management in 1960, and less than a decade later he designed his family's own residence, a demonstration of the architect's abilities and a way of developing his ideas on modernism. Four decades later HCPDPM is over 150 employees and is run by Patel with his son Bimal, who has realized his own house, designed with his wife and fellow architect Ismet Khambatta.
Ismet - Bimal Residence. Photo: HCPDPM 
The single-story house of brick and concrete is long and low, oriented to lush outdoor spaces. Three covered courtyards adjacent to the living room and bedrooms site between brick piers and give a rhythm to the exterior. The house is free of conventional windows—the only openings are doors and louvered panels; the latter help to ventilate the interior and occur as clerestories where the roof is lifted above the walls. 


Atelier Bow-Wow, House & Atelier Bow-Wow. Photo: Atelier Bow-Wow 


Atelier Bow-Wow
House & Atelier Bow-Wow

Atelier Bow-Wow appreciate the odd lots and unique responses found in Tokyo, illustrated by their Pet Architecture Guidebook from 2001. Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima's own house is an extension of this, situated on a flag-shaped lot in the city's crowded Shinjuku-ku district. Barely visible from the street, the four-story building is active 24 hours, since it also acts as the studio for Atelier Bow-Wow.
Atelier Bow-Wow, House & Atelier Bow-Wow. Photo: Atelier Bow-Wow 
The building tilts back in section in response to its neighbors, and the columns that rise through the center of the building lean accordingly. In lieu of solid partitions, the architects installed a vertical radiator as a means of defining certain functions while also heating the spaces that snake up the interior. A softening of distinctions between living and working predominates, and this thinking even extends to outdoor terraces that seem to connect to neighboring buildings.


John Hill
Published on
Apr 22, 2013