Many architects make a name for themselves when they design their first house and sometimes the house is one for themselves. The first known projects of Kunio Maekawa and Kenzo Tange were houses for themselves but the phenomenon isn’t unique to Japan. For example, there’s Philip Johnson who designed a house for himself as a graduation project. For young architects with less funds, a first commission designing a house for their encouraging and moderately well-off parents is just as good if not better. Here’s a chronological list of some I can think of offhand. There must be others I’ve forgotten or never knew of but these are the ones I used to conclude that designing a house for your parents in the early stages of one’s career doesn’t do it any harm.
1912 was the year Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris completed Maison Blance for his parents. It was his fourth house after the 1906 Villa Fallet, the 1908 Villa Stotzer, and the 1908 Villa Jacquemet, but is still thought by many to be his first. 1912 was also the same year he began his first architectural office so he famously charged his parents a fee but we don’t know the details. It’s a nice story but it would be a more informative one if we knew whether the fee was token or the going rate, and at whose insistence it was. In any case, Charles-Édouard was to live and work in the house until he decamped full-time to Paris in 1917. His parents sold the house (at a loss) in 1919, supposedly because they couldn’t afford the upkeep. (The jobs of driver, gardener, housekeeper and cook would have been split between four, three or two people.) It seems like a classic case of The Wrong House.
His parents lived elsewhere until he completed their second much smaller and single level house that they could live in without servants, in 1923, and they were to live there until they died, his father soon in 1926 and his mother in 1960. Charles-Édouard had been calling himself Le Corbusier since 1920 so this little house is, rightly speaking, the first house of Le Corbusier – a position it shares with Villa La Roche completed in Paris the same year.
The house Gio Ponti built for his parents is a little Palladian house with a fan-shaped plan you can see here. For 1924, it’s no precursor of the Rationalism that was to come but instead it’s an example of the Milanese neo-classical Novecento Italiano movement that, while not a fascist style per-se, did appeal to the great traditions of Italian art and architecture.
Ponti was already artistic director of the historic Italian porcelain company Richard Ginori, and successfully exhibited at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes where he met of Tony Bouilhet of the French silver company Christofle. Ponti and the man who was to be his next client must have gotten around to talking about architecture and Ponti’ first house for his parents was proof he could deliver. Bouilhet’s friends included Man Ray and Jean Cocteau. Ponti completed his next less-Palladian but larger house, the Villa Bouilhet in Garches, Paris two years later. Gio Ponti was successful at everything he did.
Harry Seidler had studied at Harverd GSD with Gropius and Breuer and was working for Breuer when his mother who, with her husband, had emigrated to Australia in 1946. His mother called him to come back to Australia and design a house for them. Seidler hadn’t intended to stay but the 1950 house was a sensation as it was the first Bauhausian building in Australia. Other commissions quickly followed and Seidler never went back.
Seidler brought to Australia Gropius’ talent for self-promotion. [c.f. Architecture Myths #25: The Creative Spark] The Rose Seidler House was criticised by some as being “a Harvard house transplanted to Australia” but it was something Australia had never seen before – a classy beach house.
Bofill designed a house in Ibiza for his parents when he was 19 in 1962. He’d had no training but his father was an architect, property developer and contractor so he didn’t need to work for anybody else to observe and learn how it was done. His father probably found the client and walked his son through the design and construction of the 1964 El Sargazo Apartments, the 1965 Bach 28 Apartment Building (14 apartments + retail), the 1965 Bach 4 Apartment Building, (12 luxury + 21 rent-controlled apartments) and the 1965 Nicaragua Apartment Building (shops + offices + apartments. It’s what a father would do.
Su and Richard Rogers
This house was designed by Team 4 which comprised Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and their respective wives, Su Rogers and Wendy Foster. This house, their first, is a holiday home in Cornwall, UK, for Su Rogers’ parents, Marcus and Irene Brumwell. I learned that painter Piet Mondrian owed the Brumwells money for some reason, and paid his debt with a painting, the sale of which paid for the construction of this building, completed in 1966. In 1969 the house received an RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Award for work of outstanding quality, even though Rogers confessed in some later memoir that they hadn’t really known what they were doing.
Vanna Venturi is arguably the most famous architect mother as her house is still known by her name. She was 70 when the house, Venturi’s first, was completed in 1964, the same year as Guild House, the other well-known early project of Venturi’s. I somehow remembered that all the rooms his mother used were on the ground floor because she had wanted it that way, but I didn’t know that son Robert lived and worked upstairs from 1964 until 1967 when he married Denise Scott Brown.
The house was designed at the same time as Venturi was writing Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture that included descriptions of Vanna Venturi House and Guild House. Without these two buildings to illustrate, Venturi might have been thought of as more of a theorist than a doer. With Vanna Venturi House though, what we’re seeing is a house as a manifesto, much like this next house that was completed in the UK four years later and that started an architectural stylistic movement that was to compete in the UK with what Venturi had just started in the US.
Richard and Su Rogers
Team 4 split in 1967 for some reason nobody’s ever told us, and Norman and Wendy Rogers immediately formed Foster Associates. In 1968 they designed the Humphrey Spender (brother of Stephen) house but little is said about that other than that it was a precursor to the house he and Su designed for Rogers’ parents in Wimbledon, also completed in 1968. Rogers was 35.
After winning the competition for the Pompidou Centre, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano formed Rogers and Piano, that lasted until 1977 when the Richard Rogers Partnership was formed. Success and greater things followed quickly, but more due to Pompidou Centre than Wimbledon House. The two are probably linked by the Expo ’70 Italian Pavilion that Piano had designed and Rogers had admired. It’s easy to imagine Piano liking Wimbledon House’s combination of steel and colour.
Kiko (Mozuna) Monta
In 1973 Kiko (Mozuna) Monta designed this house for his mother. We don’t know what his mother thought of it but, when I first saw it in Japan Architect magazine, I remember thinking his mother’s row of pot-plants in the first photo was how houses should be lived in.