Casa BGS in Hinge
In an era of exaggeration contrasted with existential fear, architecture’s original type (beginning with our Primitive Huts) keeps calm and carries on. The house, arguably the art’s simplest and most ubiquitous building programme, continues to represent the large-scale aspirations of many individuals on the planet, in terms of actually physically realising something. There is usually nothing a person or family can attempt to create that outsizes a single-family house; it is an endeavour which absorbs very large amounts of money, patience, capacity for stress... and of course, offers exceptional joy. Many times it involves no professional architect – it is conceivable, if rarely advisable, to design one as a layman – yet it is very often the first type of professional commission novice practitioners receive. And purely in terms of a formal exercise, the standalone house remains arguably the most potent, design-dense typology in architecture. In relatively small packages, houses pack in a lavish bounty of ideas and details. In part, that aspect is the logical outcome of the involvement of the client, which is of necessity highly personalised and unique. Residential architects know this well: designing private homes involves an intimate, lengthy, patient relationship with the client. There is no way around this fact – it is probably what inspires much of the effort to create originality in what really ought to be an exhausted genre.
That continued originality is what provides interest – and awe – in aficionados of house architecture. And as remarkable as many larger buildings have always been, no less than with the recent years’ exploration of expressive form, it is the house which captures the rapt attention of most laypeople, obviously in part because it is an aspirational building category. Even people with little hope of being able to finance the design and construction of their own new house fantasise about doing so, and watch the plethora of television programmes devoted to the subject. Once we win that lottery, we’ll buy a piece of land and build our dream house...
In fact, fantasy plays a significant part in the genesis of many house projects. That is because the house is the most accessible programme to the average person; it manifests their ‘everyday’ experience. Sleeping, eating, reposing, gathering, sheltering... these are the functions of the family home, and nearly every human being deals with them every day. So envisaging a physical enclosure to accommodate those needs is possible within everyone’s imagination. Also, even though the vast majority of the world’s population will never actually commission their own, houses don’t actually need to cost exorbitant amounts of money. Yes, they are more expensive than an automobile (the next highest cost most people spend on a single object), but not necessarily much more, and unlike cars they tend to rise in value over the long term. So a house, or a cottage, or at least an addition to a house, or a garden pavilion... are near enough to the possible for many people to entertain the idea of building one someday. And for those who actually do, an adventure ensues unlike any other.
So what does this year’s hinge collection unveil? Once again, a rejection of commonalities, first and foremost. Obviously, we might set out to choose candidates within trends, or identify temporal directions within the field of house designs. But that would be as dull as it would be disingenuous, and that’s because when it comes to the architecture of houses, there really aren’t ideas that qualify as genuine trends, at least internationally. For one thing, there are simply too many of the things built each year to possibly conquer with a singular design direction or manner. More relevantly, architects of houses employ too much talented imagination to be corralled into momentary aesthetic groupings. Quality demands more than following the crowds. And even houses that follow influences tend to find originality in details at a level of subtlety that reveals itself through domestic use. Perhaps, as is often noted, everything in architecture has been done before. But the houses that follow ‘do it again’ in ways that make them fresh and worthy of study. Students of function and beauty, plunge in.
Two stone boxes linked by a one-level bridge piece, set into the forest of Tapalpa in Mexico. Stone walls, patches of concrete, peaks of steel, panels of raw timber. Rough and ready, stoic and charming. Good lines, pleasing masses, modern spirit. Four mature trees clustered around the footprint set up the parti, then became the stars of the view. The bedroom boxes are two-storey, with major bedroom and bathroom at grade and a double-bed loft above the WC. Openings are slotted into pieces of the four walls or roof as negative planes in cubic compositions. Each opening is identified with Douglas-fir frames or panels. Mondrian haunts here, welcomed. The bathrooms, significant scene-stealers, are manifested as wood boxes inserted into the larger shells. Inside these are photography- ready galvanised tubs and copper piping. Tempered glass partitions and granite on the floors. And those stone walls, enclosing the shower areas under flat skylight glass. You could live in these bathrooms, clean or not. Fireplaces in the bedrooms and living area, the latter one hung from the ceiling.
The language is rustic, raw and indelibly chic. If this is a recluse’s shack, he’s got awfully good taste. ‘Homemade’ doesn’t apply here; everything is explicitly crafted by human hands and reduced to essentiality, but also carefully and with proportional precision, plus compositional command. For a second, at first glance, you wonder if this is a restoration deal, or a good-sized addition to some former cabin. Then quickly you get it: this is an artwork, realised in stone and wood and guided by an experienced eye. But if it didn’t keep to its boundaries, if it trod over the redlines of designed vernacular, it would fail. The immediacy of the materials and volumes, along with the clarity of the programme visible through form, is crucial for Casa BGS.
Come here alone or with a crowd, briefly or for a sabbatical, and the house will absorb you. The inversion of the plan and massing, making the bedroom ‘wings’ primary in scale and the in-between deferential, only enhances the experience, because you’ll spend more waking time aware of the sleeping zones, and enjoy them visually. Outside this central room is a terrace for grilling or just looking. And the forest is lovely, but you’ll probably aim your chair at the cabins.