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AR House 2011

In its second year, AR House discovers how the design of one-off projects is affecting and testing responses to urban issues and global challenges

Inaugurated last year with a prize fund of £10,000, AR House is an annual awards programme for the best one-off house. Entries to this year’s award were assessed by an international jury of Beatriz Colomina, Níall McLaughlin and Crispin Kelly (who replaced original juror Mark Dytham), chaired by AR Editor Catherine Slessor. We are grateful to our sponsor partner Laufen for its vision and generosity in supporting the award, and look forward to welcoming the winners to a special prize-giving and exhibition in London in September.

As a building type, the house has been the standard bearer of often quite radical innovation that presages deeper evolutionary currents in architecture and society. Yet at the same time, it is powerfully rooted in human existence and experience. In a world of increasing fragmentation and anomie, notions of hearth and home cultivate a reassuring sense of anchorage and place.

Throughout history, architects have sought to define the character of the house, perhaps most famously Le Corbusier, whose ‘machine for living in’ was a modernist call to arms. Though it now sounds like an exhausted cliché, at the time it encapsulated a genuinely thrilling shock of the new. However, even as the house continues to catalyse revolutionary approaches to architecture, technology and domestic life, it is also widely acknowledged that the suburban ideal of an isolated dwelling on a plot, still the default template for much residential development, looks woefully unsustainable in the current era of diminishing resources (land, water and energy). Confronting these challenges will test the imagination and ingenuity of architects, developers and clients.

In the search for new paradigms, the projects in this issue (with their figure ground plans shown here at 1:500 for ease of comparison), can provide some sense of direction. The overall winner, designed by a trio of young German architects, Björn Martenson, Sonja Nagel and Jan Theissen, is an especially rigorous and radical reinterpretation of the suburban villa, combining formal boldness with a Teutonically incisive approach to energy use and construction. It also offers the flexible potential for subdivision, should family circumstances change, as they invariably do.

Addressing issues such as how to creatively colonise urban micro sites (a particular Japanese dilemma, represented by many of the winners), how to build efficiently and cut construction times, how to reduce energy use, and how to live in balance with nature, the winning projects are far removed from the popular conception of the house as a sybaritic bauble of lifestyle and largesse. Rather they are thoughtful reflections on the complex and shifting relationship between architecture, society and ecology. Spread across the globe from Canada to Vietnam, they offer compelling new perspectives on the house that extol and extend its essential pioneering spirit.

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