AA Publications, 2002. 72pp. £12.50
One of the first exhibitions staged at the Architectural Association after Mohsen Mostafavi became director was on Peter Zumthor's Thermal Baths at Vals, which were then under construction (AJ 7.3.96), writes Andrew Mead. It augured a stronger emphasis within the school on materials and the tectonic, which this new AA publication, The House of Stone, certainly reflects.
The building in question was, as architects Marcel Meili and Markus Peter acknowledge, a remarkably generous and open commission - not the usual client-architect relationship but 'another form of conversation which might be compared with aristocratic patronage in the 18th century'.
On a site above Lake Zurich, an upper-middle-class family wanted a luxury villa with scope to display a large modern art collection, ample space for entertaining, quarters for guests and servants, swimming pool, fitness area - oh, and an air-raid shelter.
Cost, it seems, was not a crucial concern.
As a model for their design, Meili and Peter looked back to the early Modern Movement:
specifically, to Mies'adjacent, late-1920s Haus Lange and Haus Esters in Krefeld (which in turn recalled the English country houses that Hermann Muthesius influentially admired). They were a hybrid of steel and brick, whereas this new Zurich villa combines load-bearing stone with concrete;
but it is the outer leaf of finely jointed, grey-green, sanded limestone that gives the building its pronounced demeanour - its exactness, solidity and sober self-possession.
In the planning of the three-storey interior, a spacious hall (out of Mies and Muthesius) is central;
the craftsmanship in the woodwork and in the pastellone floors is palpable; and again Meili and Peter abjure ostentation. This is old-style Savile Row, or something Loos' tailor would have cut.But more liberties are taken than might first appear. 'Many structural principles have around their conceptual edges a sizeable flexibility, which contains its own spatial possibilities, 'say the architects; which they exploit, particularly to create continuous surfaces for hanging art.
Some aspects are only mentioned in passing - Günther Vogt's landscape scheme, for instance, with its pointed contrast of the ordered and the wild. Indeed, the whole project deserves to be explored at greater length. But its essence is in this valuable little book.