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Posted 22 July 2021

Portraits of the Architect - Interview with Gennaro Postiglione

Gennaro Postiglione with the Korsmo House in Oslo (1955) in the background. Photo: Finn Arne Johannessen. 

Gennaro Postiglione is Professor of Interior Architecture at Politecnico di Milano and author of The Architect's Home (Taschen) – a topic he revisits as a keynote speaker at the online conference Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House. He researches the culture of domestic interiors, while his research-by-design activity addresses the adaptive reuse of minor or neglected heritage buildings and alternative housing concepts for today’s variety of households. He understands research and teaching as an integral part of design practice.

What ground will your lecture cover?
I will look at the architect’s house as an interesting form of 3D self-reflection which is otherwise rare in the architect’s oeuvre. In all houses built by architects for themselves, you see a mix of character and ideas – which may or may not be in harmony with each other.

What form does this 3D self-reflection take?
I would say there are four types of architect’s house: the manifesto, which mainly expresses ideas (like Domenig’s); the lifestyle house, which explores a way of living (as the majority do); the experimental house, which is essentially trying out new ideas (like Albini’s); and what I call the nest or habitus, in which the architect – and their family – is embedded in the house and it embodies them, almost like clothing that they wear (like Perriand’s). These four are not mutually exclusive, by the way.

Your book on architect’s houses as self-portraits is almost 20 years old, yet it’s still a bestseller. How do you explain its appeal?
It’s a book you can enjoy on different levels – it has beautiful photography, detailed drawings and texts written by local experts. The selection of architects is interesting and rich, covering both famous names like Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto and far less well-known figures like Mogen Lassen from Denmark and Umberto Riva from Italy. Compiling the book as a curatorial team of five, and consulting with 30 different institutions across Europe, led to an eclectic and unexpected selection. I am told by several architects that they use the book when initially meeting with new clients for houses, to show them what’s possible and find out their preferences, so it’s a useful source book and also a great coffee table book.

Do you think that the architect’s house remains as important as it was last century?
I think the architect’s house is timeless – you can go from Michelangelo, 500 years ago, up to Rem Koolhaas today.

What are you currently working on?
Housing – I am trying to address the gap between what the market has to offer, which is still based on the idea of the monolithic nuclear family, and today’s new household, which is far more varied and fluid. As part of this research, I have redesigned my own department, combining separate living units of one or two rooms with shared spaces – a home for individuals, rather than a family. It goes without saying that I learned a lot from other architect’s houses in creating my own.

What’s your favourite architect’s house?
I love Arno Korsmo’s house in Oslo, where he lived with his wife. The house was built for their specific needs – for example his wife’s enamel workshop – but it was also extremely adaptable. The living room could also function as a theatre and meeting place; Korsmo’s office was also the main bedroom, thanks to the use of revolving beds. And all this flexibility was achieved with a wonderful sense of proportion, geometry and transparency. It’s a beautiful house.

How do you think our domestic spaces should change in the light of the pandemic, and the lockdown which confined us all to our homes?
I think that Covid-19 has emphasized a crisis that was already there – namely, the fact that the Modern idea of the home is at the end of its usefulness. In Modernism, housing was always functional: each room has one specific use and cannot easily be used for anything else. I believe we should rethink the legacy of earlier architecture. In 19th-century buildings, the layout was generic: rooms could be used for anything, yet spatially they had a strong character. We should design houses today with less stress on function, and more on the character of space – and leave the inhabitants to work out how to use them.

Jane Szita

Curious about the Iconic Houses Online Event 2021?
Check out the program of lectures and a series of thematic videos about the Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House HERE.
Or register right away HERE.

Posted 22 July 2021