Frieze has been engaged with architecture since its inception, working with leading figures such as Annabelle Selldorf and Kulapat Yantrasast to create the structures that house its fairs, and hosting the likes of Sir David Adjaye and Peter Zumthor at its Art & Architecture Summits. A new collaboration, ‘Building Stories,’ with Sotheby’s International Realty ®, goes inside outstanding homes across the globe, and discovers how the histories and visions of creative individuals have shaped them into exceptional places to live.
‘Building Stories’ launches with a new video filmed at Home Farm, the United Kingdom country house of architectural designer and author John Pawson. Renowned for his ultra-refined, intensely contemplative and often uncompromising interpretation of minimalist aesthetics, Pawson’s clients have included everyone from Bruce Chatwin to Martha Stewart, Calvin Klein to London’s Design Museum and a monastic community in the Czech Republic. As he gives a personal tour of Home Farm, Pawson resists the notion of minimalism as a prescriptive system: ‘It’s trying to get to what’s essential I suppose, trying to make rooms or spaces that make people feel good.’ As he explains, he saw potential in a group of dilapidated farm buildings, which he united and renovated, creating a sublime family retreat. Throughout the house, he emphasises the range of textures and tones brought to the spaces by natural materials like wood, and how his careful arrangement of apertures creates receptacles for light; even under sometimes grey English skies, Pawson explains, ‘if you’ve got the right container like this’, the light ‘does do magical things.’
The phrase might equally apply to another stupendous minimalist building, also in dialogue with its (rather different) surrounding landscapes: the Kaufmann Desert House, in Palm Springs, USA, currently listed with Vista Sotheby’s International Realty. A ‘serene, almost ethereal composition of glass walls and solid planes,’ as architectural critic Paul Goldberger has described it, this 5-bedroom house, dating from 1946, is the work of Austrian-American émigré architect Richard Neutra. A defining influence on American modernism, several of Neutra’s buildings are included on the National Register of Historic Places – like the jewel-like home and studio he built for himself in Los Angeles’ Silverlake – and he received the highest honour from the American Institute of Architects, the AIA Gold Medal, in 1977. His clientele numbered statesmen and royalty, but Neutra’s patron in this case was Edgar Kaufmann, a Pittsburgh retail tycoon: the same man whose desire for a vacation home in another part of the country led him to commission one of the America’s best-loved homes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. The Kaufmann Desert House is arguably every bit an American icon. A source of inspiration for photographers like Neutra’s friend Julius Shulman and Slim Aarons, who captured a 1970 poolside scene at the property, the Kaufmann Desert House’s influence on modernism in America has been compared to that of the Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s magisterial glass and steel opus outside Plano, Illinois. In any case, it is exceptional for a building of this calibre to remain in private hands – Fallingwater and the Farnsworth House are both owned and administered by non-profits – and the listing suggests the property might benefit ‘an institution’ seeking a legacy. Yet it would be transcendent if used today as the private retreat it was originally designed to be. Neutra’s self-described ‘ready-for-anything’ principle for spatial design, elegantly cantilevered roofs, and signature sheet glass walls all combine to create a series of ‘harmonic juxtapositions of mass, of light, of solid and void,’ in Goldberger’s words, each one thrillingly poised between inside and outside. As The New York Times wrote, the house seems to ‘absorb the mood of the surrounding desert.’
As the evening light and morning mists of Pawson’s personal Instagram account attest, minimalist homes can serve as ideal spaces for contemplation of the natural world around them. Some recent homes listed with Sotheby’s International Realty each exemplify a natural fit between sleek, ultra-modern design and the surrounding landscape. Set in excellent wine country, a quick drive from the baroque magnificence of Noto in Sicily, is modern villa. A little like its classical antecedents, it is set on a single level and features an open-air enclosure at its heart: this multi-use space features tall walls to insulate against summer heat and an open trellis of wooden beams to circulate air – or, in the evening, allow views of the stars. In idyllic Woodside, California, one contemporary home boasts a glass wall opening from the airy main living space onto a terrace which – like the vast, Swedish steel sash window of Pawson’s dining room at Home Farm – retracts at the push of a button, creating a stunning hybrid indoor-outdoor environment overlooking nearby redwoods and the equestrian and hiking trails which grant the town its distinct character. An altogether splashier proposition, the ‘contemporary estate’ on offer in the prestigious mountain resort of Vail, Colorado features more than 600 square metres of outdoor deck, tiered over four levels, offering dramatic tableaux of the surrounding slope: and a showstopping, 20 plus metre long, glass-bottomed infinity pool. Though far from the understatement of say, Pawson’s home, the detailed technical precision which allows a single glass plane to seemingly erase the distance between the swimmer and the Rocky Mountains is perhaps one expression of minimalist architecture’s founding dictum: ‘less is more.’
‘I gaze out the window a lot… It’s part of what I do’, says Pawson in his ‘Building Stories’ video. It’s hard to imagine a better setting to do so than in a showstopping home, listed with Chile Sotheby’s International Realty, sited at Ochoalcubo, a visionary development outside Los Vilos, in Chile’s coastal Coquimbo region. Featuring dramatic commissions from leading Japanese and Chilean architects, this house is the work of Ryue Nishizawa, co-founder of the acclaimed practice SANAA, for whose work Nishizawa was co-awarded architecture’s highest international honour, the Pritzker Prize in 2010 (making him the prize’s youngest ever recipient). An undulating poured concrete roof, glazed glass and spare steel columns creates an almost wall-less space, emerging organically from the rock cliff, exposed in every direction to the grandeur of the Pacific coast. ‘People call it daydreaming,’ says Pawson of his time spent looking out of windows on an altogether gentler landscape: in this building, the habit would surely be elevated to an art.
Main image: The Kaufmann Desert House, Palm Springs, USA designed by Richard Neutra. Currently listed by Vista Sotheby’s International Realty. Photo: Daniel Solomon. Courtesy: Vista Sotheby’s International Realty