House Works: reFraming the Modern House

House Works: reFraming the Modern House

Emily Richardson

‘A house is not a machine to live in’ asserted Eileen Gray in defiance of Le Corbusier’s famous declaration. ‘It is,’ she continued, talking nonetheless in gendered terms, ‘the shell of a man, his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation.’

Gray alerts us to a blindspot of heroic modernism. The politics of the interior of the house – as both psychological and physical space – is lacking in historical accounts of modern architecture.

In the trilogy of films that I made over a period of four years between 2014 and 2018 about three modernist homes in East Anglia – two of which were lived in by their architects – I have tried to counter the overwhelming narrative of the heroic aesthetic icon by attending to the quietly radical ways these buildings were inhabited. In my films of H.T. ‘Jim’ and Betty Cadbury-Brown’s 3 Church Walk in Aldeburgh, Suffolk (1962), John Penn’s Beach House in Shingle Street, Suffolk (1969) and Richard and Su Rogers’ Spender House and Studio, near Maldon, Essex (1968) I have constructed alternative readings of space and ways of life that were culturally connected, creative and unconventional. With each of the films a house is reconstructed as a film, reactivating the architectural space as filmic space.

We don't often think about it but the narrative of the house is akin to a filmic narrative, the house a collection of objects, memories and images, an archive and in some instances a private museum. It’s these narratives that emerge in this trilogy of films. The stories of each house are embedded in the surfaces, objects and materials found within the domestic interior: reactivating these spaces lost to architectural history, the films express aspects of the potential stories held there.

Each of the houses belong to an intense period of experimentation in the 1960s that tried to reimagine the very idea of a modern vernacular house and represent utopian visions of the rural (artistic) retreat. Each house is a remote, private zone of creativity, self-contained and connected to the rural landscape rather than the metropolitan life. My intention with the films is to expand a representation of a moment in time of each of the houses depicted. While each is significant for its architectural history, equally significant are the biographies of their architects/owners.

Half a century later, these houses represent generational shifts in attitudes towards architectural space, whether it is Cadbury-Brown’s picturesque modernism influenced by the Festival of Britain, John Penn’s unlikely marriage of Californian ideals with the Suffolk landscape, or Richard and Su Rogers’ pop-inflected view to a future of hi-tech building.

Excerpts of the films can be seen here


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