Blog by Beebe Cline

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Do These Surprising Contemporary Exteriors Hint at the Future?

Walk down any suburban street, and you can probably guess the general layout of most of the houses. We are familiar with conventional houses and subconsciously absorb the clues their facades reveal — a tall, vertical window possibly reveals the stairs; a small window with opaque glass indicates a bathroom; a large window at street level usually opens into a family room.

But what if the house has an unconventional appearance, and the familiar parts that make up the facade are not quite where we expect them to be? In these cases an initial read of contemporary houses can puzzle at first, but if we stop and take a closer look, we may be able to interpret what shaped it. An understanding of the historical, architectural or cultural background may also inform us a little. But one thing for certain is that contemporary houses rarely reveal their secrets at a glance.

We have a greater choice of materials and building methods than ever before. Do we choose to use them as a skin-like appliqué to decorate our houses? Or do we seek to use them in innovative ways that can help to reduce our reliance on our ever-diminishing natural resources? How we respond to this question will play a significant role in shaping the exterior design of our houses as we move into the future.

Here we'll look at some very different house facades. This ideabook does not attempt to cover the myriad of possibilities, but it might provide insights on some of the influences that might shape the next generation of contemporary homes.
Blurring the Line Between Inside and Out

The Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht (1924), Gerrit Rietveld. This end-of-terrace house was designed for Truus Schröder-Schräder. It makes no attempt to relate to its redbrick neighbors. In contrast to them, its facades read as a collage of planes and lines that blur the distinction between the inside and outside.
This house design became the architectural manifesto of the modernist De Stijl movement. Were Schröder’s neighbors bemused, confused or appalled by this abstract young upstart?

More about the Rietveld Schröder House
Case Study House, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles (1949), Ray and Charles Eames. A radical design at the time it was built, this home is still delightfully fresh looking 60 years later. The architects were so concerned with minimizing the impact of house on the site that they did a complete redesign. The house is composed of two linear steel-framed buildings, separated by outdoor space and tucked into the hillside.
The Eames also aimed to maximize volume with minimal materials. The two-story black steel-framed facade is broken down into geometric panels, either infilled with horizontal glazing or solid, in white or primary colors.

More about the Case Study House
Weighing Privacy and Community

Rainy Sunny, Toyko (2008), Masahiro Harada. This house in suburban Japan was severely restricted by its small plot size. It appears to turn it back on the street by presenting an unwelcome solid facade. How would this building be received on your street?
On passing through the street’s tough exterior we arrive in a double-height wood-clad interior with expansive glass walls, opening onto a private courtyard, brightly sunlit during the day. In contrast to the public face, the private spaces are open, warm and welcoming.
Hojo, Toyko (2009), Akira Yoneda (Architecton). In contrast to the previous house, this one makes no attempt to shut itself away from the outside world. Each of the building's sides is translucent.
The house is a fully glazed two-story steel box, surrounded by an outer screen of horizontal steel pipes, which hover above solid concrete basement walls.

The owner appears to be quite at ease with the openness of this house.

More about these two Tokyo houses
Discovering a New Efficiency

R House, Syracuse (2011), Architecture Research Office and TED by Onion Flats. These two houses share only a similar scale and plot size with their more conventional neighbors (not seen here). Both are designed to passive-house standards (minimal energy input), which informed their compact form and appearance. Their north-facing entrance facades have minimal glazed openings to reduce heat loss.
In contrast the yard elevations are fully glazed over two stories to optimize passive solar gain.

Some might consider that the houses in this ideabook have landed from another world, with their unconventional shapes and unusual materials. Perhaps they hint at how different and varied our houses will be in the future, given the greater choices of materials and methods of assembly available and the need to reduce our reliance on nonrenewable materials.