1st Dominic Bradbury New Country Houses

ISBN 13: 9780789208514

New Country Houses

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9780789208514: New Country Houses

The thirty houses featured in this beautifully illustrated volume range from a Portuguese vacation home whose granite facade blends seamlessly into an ancient system of agricultural terraces to a Japanese family residence whose translucent walls glow like a paper lantern in the nighttime, but they all embody the same contemporary architectural trend: a radical shift in thinking about the residential architecture of the countryside. An increasing exodus from the stresses of urban living has brought a positive and powerful design consciousness out of the cities into new and challenging environments. New Country Houses explores how architects today seek to reinvent the country house and develop a new rural architecture for the twenty-first century, rather than simply remodeling or recreating the methods and manners of the past.

Exercising his keen eye for architectural style, the author divides the book thematically into four chapters which correspond to contemporary architects’ primary approaches to the challenge of designing for the countryside: organic, vernacular, contemporary, and experimental. The individual case studies within these chapters include insights from the architects themselves and are augmented by both detailed plans and elevations and no fewer than 175 full-color interior and exterior photographs. A full complement of supplementary features an introduction tracing the history of the country house, a bibliography, and an index ensures that this book will serve as a guide and inspiration to architects, their clients, and all readers who are interested in the aesthetically groundbreaking, flexible, and ecologically conscious way of living represented by today’s new country houses.

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About the Author:

Dominic Bradbury is a freelance journalist and author whose books include Designers at Home (2001), Morocco (2002), and Mexico (2003). He is also a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines such as The Daily Telegraph and House and Garden.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION

The country house carries a heavy load of symbolic weight and historical connotation. From the sprawling, classical country house to the more modest, Modernist-inspired escape, class and cultural markers garland, and sometimes tarnish, the popular idea of the bucolic retreat. The more progressive of these associations carry the country house forward, confirming its continued place in the architectural and cultural order, whereas the negative views firmly pull the country house back into the pages of history and seek to keep it a relic of the past. But in fact, there is no stopping the continuing evolution of the country house as it begins to move into a new era, an era of renewed focus upon the countryside itself and the way in which we choose to live a particular kind of rural life. The new country house is a vibrant response to a revitalized passion for countryside living and the search for homes which truly reflect the desires, aspirations and lifestyle of an increasingly design-conscious group of contemporary disciples following the gospel of the pastoral and the provincial.

THE CONTEXT
The country house has always embodied a complex set of messages tied to ideas of status, class, wealth and the pursuit of both happiness and the realization of a construct that reflects the aspirations and pretensions of owner and, sometimes, architect as well. The grand country estate was, of course, a badge of privilege and social position, as well as a living monument to a figurehead and a family. It as a house that might be designed not simply as a home, but also as an elevated memorial, such as Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, incomplete in 1722 when the Duke of Marlborough (for who it was built) died without seeing Vanbrugh’s extravagant plans fully realized. Ultimately, the great country house was consigned largely, if not completely to posterity and to history, becoming an emblem of the past, of a lost world and a lost society.

In literature, the grand country residence is, therefore, a ready loaded symbol filled with resonance and power. This is as true of Jane Austen’s Pemberley, in Pride and Prejudice, or the Thornfield of Jane Eyre, as it is of Gatsby’s mansion in the fiction of Fitzgerald or Darlington Hall in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. In Grimm’s fairy tale The House in the Wood, the old man living with his animals in a lowly hut turns out to be a young prince cursed by a witch. The witch’s spell had aged this handsome boy in an instant and turned his palace into a shack. When a woodcutter’s daughter finally breaks the spell, the hut began to crack and rumble in every corner of the room, and the doors were slammed back against the wall, and then the beams groaned as if they were being riven away from their fastenings She found herself lying in a large chamber, with everything around belonging to regal pomp.’1

What it must be like, we think, to lose not only our youth but also a palace! And how wonderful it must be, we agree, to have them returned, and live a charmed life! But in many ways, the grand house with all those connotations of elitism and social exclusion has been a restrictive burden within the evolution of the new country house, which arguably owes its life more to that wooden hut in the forest than to the prince’s castle. Indeed, the new country house tends more toward another sequence of symbols, tied to the earthier flavours of vernacular farmsteads, barns and shacks in the woods. These are associations that are equally romantic and idealized in many ways, or even utopian.

For Henry David Thoreau, a two-year sojourn in his hand-built, 3 x 4.5-metre (10 x 15-foot) wooden cabin at Walden Pond, Massachusetts, was a kind of utopian experiment. Thoreau sought to strip away unnecessary concerns and social mores and establish a more profound connection with the natural world, as well as with his own essential self. We see something of this Thoreauvian quality in a new generation of isolated cabins by architects such as Geoffrey Warner of American practice Warner & Arsmus with his WeeHouse cabin concept or in Jarmund/Vigsnaes’s new summer cabin in rural Norway. Similarly, the Shakers and the Amish sought to create a degree of rural isolation within their own largely self-sufficient communities arranged around a religious as well as philosophical social framework. D.H. Lawrence sought long and hard for a site for his own utopian community, Rananim, which he unsuccessfully attempted to establish toward the end of his life at his ranch near Taos, New Mexico. Nearly a century later, in the 1960s, there followed the distinctive junk-built polyhedron homes of the Droppers in Colorado and the Farm Eco-Village in Tennessee woodland in the 1970s. These were generally idealistic agrarian rural cooperatives, isolated from standard society, and usually short-lived.

In their own idiosyncratic way, these utopians were drawn to the countryside for many of the same familiar reasons as we might be. They sought space and a sense of escape, a greater degree of connection with nature and the landscape, as well as a less frenetic, pressured and demanding way of life. And we are drawn to the imagery of barns and barn conversion, farmsteads and cabins partly because we see within them the symbolism of a more honest’ way of living, as well as homes that seem essentially connected to their surroundings and environment.

THE NEW MOVEMENT
There are, of course, many different and intermingling strands that come together to form the new country house movement which in itself reflects a renewed sense of optimism and confidence about rural life but this sense of connection with the landscape lies right at the heart of them all. Whereas the architecture of the hubristic great country house usually sought to dominate and subvert the landscape, the latter becoming a frame within which to view the house, the new country house has taken the opposite approach. It seeks a dialogue with the landscape in which the setting becomes the inspiration and organizing force around the design of the building, while landscaping is approached in a minimal, naturalistic way. The new country house, then, becomes a frame for viewing the landscape a lens focused on the natural world and the changing seasons. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden:

From the cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of barn and boughs, of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think. From the hearth to the field is a great distance. It would be well perhaps is we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies 2

In many ways, from the days of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House to Alberto Campo Baeza’s Casa de Blas (see pages 174 9), the modern country house has been about seeking a sense of reconnection with the landscape and using architecture, engineering and technology to find ways of removing the obstructions between us and the celestial bodies, while still providing essential shelter and aesthetic pleasure.

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