‘The most interesting works of architecture’: An interview with Philip Jodidio

April 23, 2013

In his latest book, “Architecture Now: Houses Vol. 3″,  Philip Jodidio tours personal residences that form a dialog with nature, showcasing that innovation in residential home design is, apparently, alive and well. Jodidio last spoke with us on his book “Tree Houses: Fairytale Castles in the Air.” He served as editor-in-chief of the Connaissance des Arts for more than 20 years and studied economics and art history at Harvard University. He  answered our questions regarding his latest work via e-mail.

Q: The last time we spoke, or messaged, was for “Tree Houses” — a celebration of innovative, small-scale architecture. What prompted you to move in the direction of personal houses?

This is the third in a series of Architecture Now books devoted exclusively to houses.  I find that private residences have the potential to be amongst the most interesting works of architecture. This, of course, requires that a talented architect must meet a client who is disposed to create an exceptional house. The fact that the number of decision makers is reduced, perhaps to just two persons, facilitates dialogue and decision-making. Clearly, the larger the building, the more stakeholders find that their opinion must be taken into account.

Relatively speaking, the budget for a house, even an exceptional one is far lower than for a museum, or an office building. This also encourages experimentation or a willingness to “break rules.”

Q: Is there a breakthrough you came across while making the book that stood out to you as a particularly significant innovation in sustainable home design or construction?

The book is willfully made up of a great variety of different types of homes – ranging from very small, modest ones to expensive, large ventures. The Float House (New Orleans, 2008-09) by Morphosis represents an effort to respond in a constructive way to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Built for Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation, the house was designed to obtain a LEED Platinum rating and was quite literally designed to float on rising waters—moving up as much as 12 feet on guide posts. The structure is meant to be cheap enough to serve as low-income housing.

Q: What role does tradition play in architectural innovation? It seems the two are anathema, but, in your book, you say that tradition is, in some cases, the force behind innovation.

The Morphosis project, for example, was based on the local “shotgun” type house. Tradition of course comes in many different forms, sometimes imposed by building codes, sometimes manifesting itself even more directly as an echo of designs that marked the past. It does seem that a strong trend to dissolving the “conventional” layout of houses is emerging. Japanese architects like Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA) and Sou Fujimoto have dared to create residences that are practically without internal walls, but where even floor levels are broken up to encourage a convivial, open atmosphere that some might find lacking in privacy.

Q: Are homes like these still possible? In other words, can the up-and-coming generation, given current economic woes, expect to be able to own the latest in sustainable, artistically fascinating homes?

As everyone knows, for some people, budgets are no problem.  There are certainly houses in this book that reflect this upper level of income, but there are also small, inexpensive houses.  Architects, like their clients, are most often obliged to make do with less, but this can also be a source of inspiration—how to build an innovative house while spending less than might have been the case a few years ago. I have a great deal of confidence in contemporary architecture and its resiliency.

Q: What is the don’t-miss home in this book? Is there one? If so, what makes it so?

The curiously named House Turtle (Biriwa, Ghana, 1999-2009) is the work of two well-known German artists, Carsten Höller and Marcel Odenbach. Located near Cape Coast on the Gulf of Guinea in the town of Biriwa it was designed, according to Höller “with the following considerations: a) to have a maximum of air flow through and under the house to avoid the necessity of air conditioning; b) to make the construction unattractive for mosquitos and keep animals, including snakes, at a distance; c) to favor 87 or 93 ° angles over 90° angles, in order to increase/decrease the perception of distance and straightness; d) to collect rain water from the roof and the terraces underground; e) to make the house look ‘unfinished’.”  Strange and lonely on its ocean-front site, this house shows that contemporary architecture is still able to innovate or perhaps to disturb.

 

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Emi Kolawole | April 23, 2013