Friday, May 7, 2010

Norman Foster | Modernist House on the Mediterranean

 So when Foster imported his kit of high-tech parts to the commission, he was updating a distinguished tradition with the next evolutionary step. But there was an even more demanding and immediate context: In this part of the Mediterranean, every square inch is spoken for, and the property was not only occupied by a towerlike house but also restricted by regulations against its removal. “I couldn’t build here, but I couldn’t demolish either,” says the architect. “In the end, what I did was transform.”
Arguably, Norman Foster saved the residents of a white villa overlooking the Mediterranean the cost of a large yacht. When the 30-foot-tall, 18-ton glass façade glides to the side and opens the five-story living area to the oceanside terrace, you have the distinct feeling you’re at the prow of a vessel heading out to sea. With the sun warming your skin, you ride the waves, but in the comfort of a living space splashed with a four-story Richard Long installation on the back wall. Foster may be famous for building the biggest airport in the world (in Beijing) and designing the tallest skyscrapers, but very occasionally he designs a single-family house that shows how his big, industrial, intricately engineered architecture treats the individual in kinder, gentler, greener ways.

There is a tradition of white modernist villas in the Mediterranean world, and Foster’s design is the latest entry in this important but underdocumented sidebar of modernism. For starters, Le Corbusier drew inspiration from the cubic structures of its villages. Starting in the 1920s, a whole generation of white villas, from the south of France to the shores of Italy, Greece and the Levant, merged the sybaritic rites of seaside vacations with the modernist agenda of healthy lifestyles nurtured among simple, abstract forms.

Given a site with the constraints of an existing building and a very steep slope, Foster played the design to the site’s one great feature, the commanding south-facing sea view. Wanting to create a promenade linking the street entrance to the shore seven stories down, he conceived the house as a stepladder between bodies of water, leading from a pool on the roof to the waves lapping the rocks below. Within the side walls of the existing structure, he backed the house up against the hillside so that each room faces seaward: The house seems all prow and no stern. The walls blinker the house to adjacent properties.
Unlike so many of his buildings, which cut strong figures, this house doesn’t stand free but almost coats the hillside. Its only façade is visible from the water, where the stories terrace back beneath two springing steel arches, with brightwork in between that will eventually host shading vines. The architect has not created a handsome object so much as an environment that uses technology to cultivate nature.
Foster announces his nautical and environmental themes at the street, where he rigs canvas sails across the roof and pool bordered by pines: The plane of water doubles as a heat sink, establishing a microclimate that moderates temperatures in the house below. The stretched fabrics serve as sunshades that frame the view, and the rigging supports the canvas, connoting lightness and movement and suggesting a sailing metaphor.
More at ArchitecturalDigest

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