Red House, Dorset: the shape of post-post-postmodernism? | Architecture


TTens of years ago, an architectural bomb went off in Hackney, east London. It was a small and charming bombshell, with no reported casualties, a color somewhere between baby blue and sky blue, with odd shapes – old Dutch gables inspired by a postcard of Amsterdam, the outline of a tree, a child’s idea of ​​a house – in cut its boarded exterior. But it did an outrageous feat in architectural circles at the time, reviving postmodernism, the decorative style tainted by its association with the bloated office buildings and malls of 1980s corporate excess.

the blue house, as it is known, helped bring some fame but not much fortune to its architect, Fashion Architecture Taste FAT, until they announced their split in 2013. However, this did not change much in the development of the architecture. It has not sparked a revolution of what might be called post-postmodernism. His big idea was that architecture could be like pop art, that it could combine artistic sophistication with a direct appeal to everyday culture, that it could take up themes from notable architects of the past, while offering childlike imagery. Thus came the gable and tree shapes with a multi-layered and complex interior that owes Adolf Loos and something to their credit John Sone. Somehow the world wasn’t ready for it.

A new roof extension was added by FAT founder Sean Griffiths to the office’s 2002 blue house in Hackney, east London. Photo: Sean Griffiths

In recent years, however, there has been a gradual exploration of the waters that FAT bravely entered when the century was young. Postpostpostmodernism maybe. One manifestation is this Red House, a new home in Dorset for an art dealer, his accountant husband and their young daughter. It was designed by David Kohn, the architect who, along with artist Fiona Banner, created a temporary one-bedroom hotel shaped like a boat atop London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Red House is a long, two-story rectangle with a large overhanging slate roof. It has tall chimneys, curved bay windows, and openings in the shape of circles and semicircles. The windows and doors of an end view are reminiscent of the eyes and mouth of a face. Complementary colors blend: a vibrant green for the metalwork and the wood and red brick walls. It announces clearly, almost cartoonishly, that it is a house. At the same time, it provides clues and distractions for architectural scholars. It is indebted to the circa 1900 Arts and Crafts houses built for enlightened patrons in places like the Lake District, the Malvern Hills or what is now the London Greenbelt. It is particularly reminiscent CFA Voysey, the leading representative of this style.

The Red House Staircase.
The Red House Rococo Staircase. Photo: Will Pryce

It also has something of the mid-century Louis Kahn of Philadelphia, a romantic believer in solid masonry, and something of James Stirling, the British architect who enjoyed powerful forms from the 1950s until his death in 1992 and letting colors collide. Inside, on the first floor, there is an arched corridor inspired by the Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan, whose exquisite 1930s interior provided a memorable backdrop for the film starring Tilda Swinton i am love.

The house is composed like a piece of music, with complexity and differentiation playing out an overall structure. Inside, an axis runs down the center of the house, leading you to the views of the garden and countryside beyond, around which are grouped contrasting spaces: a semi-circular dining area, a bright kitchen, a work alcove leading from the first… Landing, a master bedroom where the concave curve of the inside of a bay window meets the triangular shape of the underside of the roof for a subtle and tent-like effect. A staircase with rococo curves connects the two floors. Ample storage spaces that help keep the interiors clutter-free and tidy underscore the plan.

The windows and doors of an end view of the Red House are reminiscent of the eyes and mouth.
Like “the eyes and mouth of a face”: the windows and door of an end view of the Red House. Photo: Will Pryce
Lots of storage space, big doors.
Lots of storage space, big doors. Photo: Will Pryce

Rooms are high or low, spacious or cramped, with light coming from different angles and views in multiple directions. The scale is a bit surprising: passageways and doorways are higher and wider than normal, partly out of a desire to make the house wheelchair accessible. At the same time, the interior is outfitted with a calm and consistent practicality – concrete block walls painted white and wooden block floors – giving an overall coherence to the variety of shapes and spaces.

On the outside, the walls are laid horizontally as usual, but sometimes also vertically. There is a logic that can be lost to the casual observer, namely that the vertical bricks denote the position of more functional spaces such as bathrooms and closets that serve the main living quarters. There is also a slight overhang in the masonry at the first floor level. Again, it’s a nice touch that many won’t notice, but while that and the brick patterns add to the cost, Kohn’s customers were happy to pay for it. The house is (among other things) a work of art, is her view, and its architect should be trusted to do it his way.

The Red House’s tent-like master bedroom. Photo: Will Pryce

Both the Blue House and Red House play with your expectations of scale, finish, and looks. What looks flat can be substantial and vice versa. For both, the outside says something about the inside, but not exactly. The Blue House, which included both a studio and a home, has both the lattice windows of a workplace and the shape of a domestic pitched roof, but they do not correspond to the locations of those uses inside. The Red House is the more polite of the two, where the multiple elements are more assimilated with each other.

Extension of Sean Griffiths' Blue House.
The extension of the Blue House.
“A Beach House on the Roof”: Sean Griffith’s expansion of the Blue House. Photo: Sean Griffiths

The Blue House is happier about its incongruities, which have now been added another level. It was originally built for Sean Griffiths, one of the founders of FAT, and his partner at the time, the landscape architect Lynn Kinnear. The two no longer live together, but Griffiths has designed an interior renovation for Kinnear and a top-of-the-house extension that includes a contemplative study that opens onto a roof garden. The new work is totally different from the original, but it has the same spirit.

Here new materials and colors are added to an already rich palette – pebble walls, a profiled metal roof, pink, yellow, green. The roof structure adds another to the already existing house shapes, plus a somewhat brutalistic projecting window. “A beach house on the roof,” Kinnear calls it, and the inside is a surprisingly tranquil retreat with views of London’s chimneys and spires. “What the rest would have been like if I had been a good architect at the time,” Griffiths describes.

Kohn doesn’t see himself as a direct supporter of FAT, but he shares some of their interests and appreciates their “enormous generosity.” He says they “did a brilliant job of expanding on the architecture and trying to steal fair game. It was a project to regain a lot of lost fun.” Perhaps now the architectural world is finally ready to hear their messages.


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