Foundation stone: leading architects on the homes that shaped them


Powered by article titled “Foundation stone: leading architects on the homes that shaped them” was written by Nell Card, for The Guardian on Saturday 24th September 2016 10.00 UTC

Daniel Libeskind

Libeskind, 70, founded Studio Libeskind with his wife, Nina, in 1989 after winning a competition to build the Jewish Museum in Berlin. In 2003, his studio moved its headquarters from Berlin to New York, when Libeskind was selected as master planner for the World Trade Center redevelopment

I grew up in a dreary industrial city called Lodz, where all the greyness of postwar Poland, conformity and communism shaped my childhood. We lived on a main street in a crumbling tenement building.

When I went to see it recently, I realised what a limited environment it was. It had two small rooms and a kitchen, which also housed the bathtub. My parents slept in one room, and I slept in the living room with my sister. The only view we had was of the other side of the building, over a dismal little courtyard where people would beat their carpets. As a small boy, I’d look out of the window and watch the dust.

When I was 11, we moved to Israel, where I lived for three years on a kibbutz without my parents, who had gone to Tel Aviv to find work, and later in downtown Tel Aviv, in a white, square building that was inspired by Bauhaus ideas. On the kibbutz, I shared a dormitory with kids my own age and we studied or worked together, picking potatoes in the fields. It was a strange experience for me, moving from an intimate, hidden existence in Lodz to this open, beautiful landscape in Israel where I had the freedom to think and be myself on this collectivist farm.

We emigrated to New York when I was a young teenager, and I found myself in the Bronx, living in one of the first social housing projects in the US. It was a tiny apartment with no air conditioning and everybody sat out on the fire escape at night. It was here that my interest in architecture began. We had a Formica kitchen table with curved edges and, when I started to study, I worked with a T-square; but because the table had a curved edge, I could never tell at precisely what point the angle was no longer a right angle. Perhaps this had a subliminal impact on my future thinking.

Daniel Libeskind childhood home
‘All the greyness of postwar Poland shaped my childhood’: Libeskind back where he grew up, in Lodz. Photograph: Daniel Libeskind

Nowadays, I live with my wife in Lower Manhattan, in an apartment that bears little resemblance to my childhood home. It’s on the seventh floor of a former bank that was built in the early 1900s. Working with architects, I’ve completely transformed the interior – all the walls have been removed and small windows replaced so we now have spectacular views of the New York skyline. There’s little clutter. Natural light and good acoustics are important, as is the flow of space.

There is only one room in the apartment with a door, and that’s my daughter’s bedroom: that argument I could not win. Our bedroom doesn’t have a door – it is not a private space. I shared a dormitory in Israel so I grew up with a communal sense of space. I like it; my wife is not so keen.

What I love about this apartment is that it is part of the bustle of New York. When I look out the window, I can see thousands of people on the streets, in the park and in buildings. Day and night, there’s never a quiet moment. And our building is right on top of the subway line, so you can feel the vibrations travelling up from deep inside the building. I find it one of the most beautiful feelings. It’s the same subway line I took to school when I was living in the Bronx. It’s where I live and work – a place I continue to be deeply connected to.

Julia Barfield

Barfield, 63, is a director at Marks Barfield Architects. Her projects include the London Eye (for which she received an MBE in 2000), the UK’s first green mosque, in Cambridge, and the newly opened British Airways i360 tower in Brighton

Julia Barfield
Julia Barfield at her end-of-terrace home in Stockwell, south London, which was built in the 1840s. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

I was born in Buckinghamshire and moved to London aged four, so I regard myself as a Londoner. Growing up, I lived with my parents and sister in a late-Victorian, four-bedroom mansion block flat in West Kensington. The flat was T-shaped and all of the rooms to the right-hand side of the central corridor looked out on to the street. At the end of the T was a small kitchen, where we held all our birthday parties and made dens. I would run up and down the corridor, playing with the cat. We shared the flat with two lodgers; I shared a room with my sister until our early teens.

I remember looking out of our bedroom window one afternoon, watching prefabs coming off the back of lorries and being slotted together. It was the early 1960s, so there were still quite a lot of bomb sites in our neighbourhood. To watch these houses being built, with people moving in the very next week, was amazing.

Julia Barfield childhood home
‘The fact that I grew up in a flat made me unafraid of them’: Julia Barfield in her parents’ kitchen, at her fifth birthday party. Photograph: Julia Barfield

The fact that I grew up in a flat made me unafraid of them. We didn’t really have any outdoor space, apart from balconies that my father filled with flowers, so we played on the street or took the bus to Holland Park, to one of London’s first adventure playgrounds.

My husband and I moved to our current home in south London, in the 1970s, when we were students. Back then, it was virtually derelict, so there was a lot of self-build involved. It’s an end-of-terrace built in the 1840s. In the early 1980s it was under threat of demolition, but eventually the planners decided to make it a conservation area.

When we started having children, we built a shed on the side, which served as an office, then a playroom. But then we built the London Eye and eventually had enough money to transform the house. Now, it is as green as can be: highly insulated, with an air-source heat pump, double glazing, underfloor heating and two green roofs to encourage biodiversity. The kitchen is still the heart of the house.

Our firm hasn’t done a lot of residential work, but in 2002 we did propose a tower called Skyhouse. It was our suggestion for solving London’s housing crisis: high-density with mixed tenancies, renewable energies and communal facilities. It was slightly ahead of its time. Towers were still associated with council blocks, so we never got to build it; but we put it out there as an idea. It has contributed to the discussion about high-density living – perhaps it’s something we will revisit in the future.

John Pawson

Pawson, 67, is renowned for his minimalist buildings. They range from the Novy Dvur monastery in the Czech Republic to Calvin Klein stores across the world, and the new Design Museum, due to open in November in the former Commonwealth Institute in London

John Pawson
‘For me, minimalism is about clarity – trying to get to the essence of things’: John Pawson in his modernised 19th-century house in Notting Hill. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

Minimalism is a label that follows me. I’m not against it, but it means different things to different people. In my terms, minimalism doesn’t mean painting it white and not having any possessions; for me, it’s about clarity – trying to get to the essence of things.

I grew up in the house I was born in. Looking back, I can see where my minimalist aesthetic came from. The house was near the edge of the Yorkshire moors, a treeless landscape. Growing up, we were encouraged not to set much store by material things. Of course, that’s easy to say, coming from a comfortable middle-class family. And we didn’t live in a minimal place – my mother liked antiques, but she also promoted a very attractive modesty. She tended to wear one suit, but it was a Chanel suit.

My parents bought the house after the second world war. It was part 16th-century and it incorporated a Norman arch, so it had a lot of character. My father was in the rag trade. He manufactured women’s dresses, so he loved quality. In fact, I think he built the most expensive orangery, probably ever. I now know where I get it from.

These days, most people want what I had when I was growing up: one room in which everything happened. For us it was the kitchen. It seemed there was always an architect laying out plans on the kitchen table, always workmen around, always a project.

My room was the smallest, and each time one of my sisters left home my dad would knock a wall down between rooms. In the end, I had a giant room with nothing more in it. And aside from the orangery, my father also renovated a cottage and the lodge on the property. At 16 or 17 I moved into the cottage and, of course, I changed it. I simplified it, stripped it out.

Pawson childhood home
‘We didn’t live in a minimal place’: Pawson’s childhood home dates back to the 16th century. Photograph: Pawson House

I now live in a 19th-century row house in Notting Hill, west London. My wife, Catherine, found it and put in an offer before I had even seen the place, because the setting is so unusual – there are uninterrupted views over communal gardens. It’s in a conservation area, so we had to keep the facade, but I opened up the back and redrew the floor plans. The interiors are designed around the way we live, with everything we need and nothing we don’t. As in my parents’ house, the kitchen table is the main gathering place – it’s where we talk, eat, work and sit down with family and friends. Whatever else is different, I like to think my parents would recognise the atmosphere of the place, and feel at home.

I never intended to be an architect. I came to the profession late, after working for my father for six years. I remember him saying: “Why don’t you just hire an architect? Why would you want to be one?” But I think he knew that it was where I found pleasure.

I’ve spent the past few years working on London’s new Design Museum. The existing building is fairly iconic from the outside; I wanted to slightly calm it down so that the objects become more potent than my work inside the building.

People say I am uncompromising and detail-orientated, and I am – qualities I definitely got from my father. And I tend to attract clients who are even more so – they are happy to push me up a mountain if necessary.

Adam Willis

Willis, 29, is a founding member of Assemble, a collaborative practice of young artists, designers and architects based in London. Current projects include a new public art gallery for Goldsmiths University, the refurbishment of 10 houses in Toxteth, Liverpool (for which Assemble was awarded the Turner Prize in 2015), and the refurbishment of an artists’ wharf in London

Adam Willis childhood home
Adam Willis’s 17th-century childhood home in Herefordshire. Photograph: Adam Willis

I grew up at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Whiteleaved Oak, a rural hamlet in Herefordshire where my parents still live. The oldest part of the house was a cottage that dates back to the early 1600s. There is a more recent, 19th-century, timber-framed structure that was badly adapted before my parents bought the house in the early 1980s. They erected new timbers, replaced the roof and built a small extension and a studio for my dad to work in. I grew up around building work.

My father is a sculptor, so he was hands-on with the work around the house – and you can see his involvement. The floor is intricately laid, for example: it’s made from different widths and lengths of elm notched together. I have strong memories of my father laying and oiling those boards.

Building was an early obsession. I used to ask my mum to make me packed lunches so I could eat lunch with the builders on site. By the age of about 14, I had become obsessed with woodwork. I was given some wood for my birthday, which I used to build a workbench that is still in the studio – I go back and use it.

At 18, I built a modern timber and glass extension with my dad. The house now shows a progression of timber-framed construction: from the old cottage at one end to that extension at the other.

The home I am currently living in couldn’t be more different. I’m renting a flat on the 31st floor of a tower block in the Barbican, in the City of London, with three other architects and a fashion designer. We’ve been here for two years, and it’s an incredibly uplifting place to live.

The flat has most of its original features: the kitchen, cupboards and fittings. I’ve made a few pieces of furniture, such as a simple elm dining table. The bedrooms are arranged along one side and each opens out on to a balcony that wraps around the entire flat. It has generous proportions, with a large, open-plan living and dining room that overlooks north and east London. There’s a solidity to everything that is satisfying. And being up so high is an amazing experience in itself.

Adam Willis
‘It’s an incredibly uplifting place to live’: Adam Willis at his flat at the Barbican, London – his block is identical to the one he overlooks here. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

What’s striking is that the singular vision of the architect is apparent throughout the estate, from the master-planning right through to the kitchen taps. The complexity and variety of spaces within the project – realised with such coherence and integrity – is quite extraordinary.

The luxury of space that I enjoyed when I was growing up is obviously impossible to replicate in London, so you have to start looking at alternatives. I’m interested in the potential of co-housing, or models of communal living where people can benefit from sharing resources, such as a workshop or greenhouse, say, or from a generosity of common space.

Wherever I end up, there will be an element of self-build: like my dad, I’ll always have the urge to be hands-on.

Sarah Wigglesworth

Founder of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, and professor of architecture at Sheffield University, Wigglesworth, 59, was awarded an MBE in 2003. She is leading the Dwell (Designing for Wellbeing in Environments for Later Life) research project on creating housing for older people

Sarah Wigglesworth at home
Sarah Wigglesworth at home in the Straw House, north London. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

I was brought up in a semi-detached Victorian villa in north London, where my parents lived for about 50 years. They bought it in 1955 for £2,500. They were the first generation of gentrifiers to move to Islington. The house they bought in Canonbury had been a rooming house. Every room had a Yale lock on it and there were stoves on the landing. They turned it back into a family home.

My father, Gordon, was an architect. He combined the main living rooms into one enormous room, replacing the central main wall on the ground floor with two amazing pitch pine columns that were beautiful. He ripped out the fireplaces, installed a downstairs toilet and replaced the florid, Victorian cornices in the main living room with a sleek and simple design of his own. There was a sense of modernising it and adapting it to suit the needs of a growing family, but keeping elements of its period.

He also designed and built us a second home in Hampshire, inspired by the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a brick box surrounded by courtyard gardens. It was open plan, with exposed brick walls, flat roofed and low lying in the landscape. It was built when I was about eight, and we went there every summer. My father talked about it obsessively.

I loved that building, but we lost interest in the house when we were teenagers, so my parents sold it. It has been added to, so it has lost that essence of being a simple holiday house. Likewise, when we sold the London house, my friend saw my father’s pine pillars in a skip – the new owners had stripped them out. I was upset to hear that.

In a way, the two homes are combined in the Straw House, in London, where I live and work. We’ve got the open-plan living space that my father created in my childhood home.

Sarah Wigglesworth childhood home
‘I loved that building’: the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home where Wigglesworth spent many of her childhood summers. Photograph: Sarah Wigglesworth

Growing up, one thing I enjoyed about my home was its hybridity. It was an early Victorian building altered to suit modern family life. Buildings ought to be adaptable, flexible and forgiving. I don’t believe in the preciousness of “the beautiful concept”. Longevity is given by a building’s ability to adapt.

Sunand Prasad

Prasad, 66, co-founded Penoyre & Prasad in 1988 with Greg Penoyre. The practice specialises in the sustainable architecture of health, education and civic buildings. Prasad is chair of Article 25, a charity helping communities to build resilient buildings, especially after disasters

Sunand Prasad at his flat in Highgate.
Sunand Prasad at his flat in Highgate. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

I grew up in central India in a community founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1937. It was a village with utopian ambitions; a vision of what rural India could look like after independence. People from all over the world came through the village, drawn by Gandhi’s legacy. Education was at its heart.

My father was an art teacher and my mother a nurse. The house we lived in was a simple, symmetrical structure with a deep veranda, two good-sized rooms, and a bathroom and kitchen. On summer days, we closed the windows and hung dampened vetiver mats over the doorways, so the hot winds turned into a cool, scented breeze that filled the house.

On summer nights, we would sleep out in the open. I have a fond memory of my mum pointing out the constellations before we fell asleep. In the winter it was the other way round – taking the sun in the day and sleeping inside at night.

The walls were made of wattle and daub, and we had timber-trussed roofs, plain interlocking tiles and wide eaves. The house was raised off the ground to keep it dry during the monsoons. These, and the summer heat, took their toll on the house, so every spring there was a celebratory redecoration. The walls were coated with a slurry of mud and a sterile cow dung derivative, which repelled insects.

The house sat in the middle of a rose garden surrounded by fields. Seasonally, there would be sweet potatoes and bananas on one side and an orange grove on the other. There was also a gulmohar tree, which had fern-like branches and beautiful red flowers.

The community thrived in the mid-50s and our house was very much in the middle of that. My father built an art school next door – his passion. One of my first memories is pointing the flagstones in the veranda when I was four; I was given a little trowel. It’s nice to think that this was the beginning of my architectural career, further encouraged by the Meccano set my father found in a junk shop.

Sunand Prasad childhood home
‘On summer days the hot winds turned into a cool, scented breeze’: the house where Sunand Prasad grew up, in rural India. Photograph: Sunand Prasad

Looking back, it was a truly sustainable lifestyle: simple, enjoyable and stylish. All those things were influential to me.

Of the places I have lived in, the most comparable since was a home friends and I built in east London using recycled materials, as part of a housing co-operative. We raised our children there. It linked with other houses across back gardens and had a sense of community reminiscent of my childhood. I would love one day to build a house that is as regenerative as nature, wasting nothing.

Terry Farrell

Farrell, 78, founded his own practice in 1980. His projects include London’s Charing Cross station, the TV-am building, MI6 headquarters, and recently, in east Asia, KK100 in Shenzhen, the tallest tower realised by a British architect

Terry Farrell at home
Terry Farrell’s home is a converted factory. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian

I believe in a pluralist approach to taste, which is probably affected by my emerging from a working class. I grew up the child of a postman and then went to grammar school, so I was part of that transition.

I was born on the outskirts of Manchester. When I was eight, we moved to the Grange council estate three miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne. We lived there from 1946 to 1954 in a prefab and a brick house. The prefab was well-designed: a lightweight aluminium frame clad in asbestos. It had an image problem, though. After four years, we moved into a brick house on the other side of the estate. It was handcrafted rather than factory-made, but it had smaller windows and the kitchen wasn’t as functional.

I still live in the middle of a housing estate. Thirty years ago, I bought a disused factory in a deprived ward in Westminster. It was built in the 1920s and requisitioned during the second world war by a tyre and aeroworks company. I bought it for £10 a square foot.

My offices occupy the ground and first floors, and for the past 15 years I have lived with my wife in the roof. It’s a steel-framed, rough-and-ready space of 3,500 sq ft with no separate bedroom or study. I’ve never adjusted to a desk, study or studio – my home is my workplace.

Although it is industrial, there are lots of plants and trees inside, and on my roof terrace. I was immersed in nature as a child – the estate was surrounded by countryside.

Terry Farrell as a baby
‘I feel a sense of social justice about what I do’: Terry Farrell as a baby in Manchester, with his older brother, Tony, and their father. Photograph: Terry Farrell

I was influenced by a remark my father made when we lived on the estate. He was conscious that every door should be painted green. He said, “If it belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one.” I feel that same sense of social justice about what I do. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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