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House Plan: Robert Dye on Holl’s Pamphlet Architecture no 9

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In the latest of the AJ’s ongoing series looking at influential housing plans, Robert Dye and Jason Coleman choose Steven Holl’s Pamphlet Architecture no 9

The drawings of Pamphlet Architecture no 9 by Steven Holl, catalogue rural and urban American house types in a pared back graphic language.

Each drawing consists of a double page spread including a title, short text, photo, plan and axonometric.  Read together, this provides almost all that is required to understand each house both as a material dwelling, and in the case of urban houses, as building blocks for the city.

There is an acceptance in these drawings of the fundamental simplicity that underpins most houses. Yet in the way they are stripped back, they remove the stasis which normally burdens their description, making each type seem playful and suddenly ripe for re-invention. Collectively, the drawings present the existing houses of the city not as a heritage record, but achieve the remarkable feat of presenting each one as a genesis.

In practice, confronted with the existing housing fabric of London or gap sites within it, this is the challenge we are constantly facing. In many ways these drawings reflect a spirit through which much of our own work finds its initial impulse, not rejecting the city, house types and histories that we are presented with, but attempting to open them up with a fresh material and spatial response to both the urban and architectural surroundings.

Technology has made the production of both complex images and production information much quicker and easier. However, we often find ourselves returning to simple pen and ink drawings to refine and understand the original invention in a proposal, and to strip away the overwrought additions that otherwise might creep in. This often seems to be the hardest task and one which reveals how rigorous the pamphlet drawings actually are.

Although the drawings are bare of obvious drawn signs of inhabitants, their spatial and narrative clarity allows the reader to easily imagine the activities and patina of life covering their surfaces. This is aided by enigmatic asides in the texts - of ghosts, flounders and shotguns - which hint at the remarkable ability of houses to deal with much more than the pragmatic. Such moments of human serendipity is also something we try to remember and embrace in our own work.

Robert Dye is the founder of Robert Dye Architects. Jason Coleman is his long time design collaborator. The practice won the Manser Medal in 2005 for its Stealth House.


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