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House Plan: Carl Turner on MVRDV's Double House

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In the latest of the AJ’s ongoing series looking at influential housing plans, Carl Turner chooses MVRDV’s Double House in Utrecht

It’s often hard to remember when you first discovered a particular project, but in the case of MVDRV and particularly their Double House, it was almost certainly while I was studying at the RCA in London around 1999.

I probably prefer sections to plans, and this single point sectional perspective etched itself into my psyche. The technique is a very simple black and white line drawing. The original was largely black line on a white background, with the walls of one area picked out in solid black. I also have it in a more recent book where the colour is reversed out the other way, which is equally powerful.

The real strength of the image is in it’s simple depiction of what I think of as shared space. The Double House is in fact two homes, sharing one external volume. The main living spaces are one room deep on plan and the drawing immediately explains the way these spaces intertwine; they literally share the best views and give each house an almost full width living space. I can imagine party wall surveyors and estate agents in the UK going into meltdown at the thought of flying freeholds. The drawing really embodies the idea of neighbourliness.

The garden is really the only context in the drawing, depicted as a complex organic, natural form against the control of the very minimally drawn house. It has a claustrophobic ‘Rear Window’ atmosphere, notably without people, just some abandoned furniture (which I never noticed before is the same in both homes!)

The images of the finished house show a very raw, almost unfinished very industrial interior. Exposed concrete and OSB sheeting are both materials I have gone on to use in my own work. Externally the houses read as one volume clad in dark plywood, but look carefully and that section is visible in the glazing pattern.

This drawing introduced me to the work of MVRDV, and their fresh ideas driven approach to housing that seemed sadly missing in the UK. Their Borneo Houses were a key inspiration for my own Slip House, showing how a terrace of houses by different designers can produce a coherent piece of urban design. The ideas of shared space also informed our RIBA competition winning ‘Supernature’ housing project showing how homes could share courtyards. We are also working on Sibling House in Brockley, a shared block for the children of a local family to share as they grow up, inspired by Double House.

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