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Inside Iconic Houses - Live Online Tour of the Isokon Building and Penthouse!

Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House

Portraits of the Architect - Interview with Gennaro Postiglione

Test Labs for New Ideas - Interview with Natascha Drabbe

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Posted 20 July 2021

Test Labs for New Ideas - Interview with Natascha Drabbe

Natascha Drabbe. Background photo Van Schijndel House, Theo Baart. 

Natascha Drabbe is the founder and executive director of the Iconic Houses network. She is the Conference Chair of the 2021 online conference Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House and presents the thematic video about the houses that architects design for themselves. She graduated in architectural history from Utrecht University and has published, curated, lectured and been a member of design and architecture juries at home and abroad. She was an international project manager at the Dutch Design Foundation (Premsela) from 2002 to 2006. In 2007, she set up the Mart van Schijndel Foundation, in order to keep that architect’s ideas alive and make his home in Utrecht available for guided tours, lectures and film screenings. This was followed by launch of the Iconic Houses Foundation in 2008 and the website iconichouses.org in 2012. International Iconic Houses conferences have been held in London, Barcelona, Los Angeles and New Canaan. Natascha Drabbe lives in the Van Schijndel House in Utrecht.

The pandemic has forced the Iconic Houses conference to migrate online. What are the advantages of this new format?
Attendees can virtually visit more houses – 20 in total, spread all over the Netherlands – than we could have covered physically. Also, it’s much easier to attend the conference online – the modules are never longer than 90 minutes, and with one a week you can plan your schedule around them. You can also watch modules later, at a time that suits you. Finally, of course, it costs far less to take part because there are no physical tours and no travel and accommodation costs.

The video you present is about architect’s houses – what approach does it take?
Houses that architects design for themselves are like test labs for new ideas. In the four houses that are central to this episode, we see the architects Van Ravesteyn, Jan de Jong, Mart van Schijndel and the Kortekaas duo putting their theories into practice down to the smallest detail. We also see what a challenge it is to build an experimental house with the small budget that architects usually have for their own homes. As a result, they often experiment with unorthodox, cheap building materials, which later leads to major restoration issues.

How is your own house, now that it’s turning 30 next year?
It’s in need of renovation and I’ve worked on this, which is a project in itself, throughout the pandemic, with a team of experts and lots of love and attention. The house is less there for me than I am for the house!
But I hope that after the current intensive round of repairs – foundations, new roof, new sealant joints and replacing a couple of leaky windows – I will only have to deal with minor maintenance for the next few years and can enjoy the house more.

After the long lockdown, which house are you longing to see in real life?
Wherever we go with our next Leadership Circle tour! On this tour, we visit a special house together with the living architect. At the end of October 2019, we started off with a wonderful visit to the Tower House by GLUCK+ in upstate New York. Then the pandemic struck.
I would also love to see Palais Stoclet, designed by Joseph Hoffman in Brussels in 1911. It’s an Art Nouveau treasure, with mosaics by painter Gustav Klimt in the dining room – no wonder it’s on the World Heritage List! It still has all the original furniture and belongs to the same family, but unfortunately it’s not open to the public.

Palais Stoclet in Brussels.  

How has the pandemic changed the way you live in, and feel about, your home?
Unable to work out at the gym, I now work out in the central room, on Zoom with a friend in Stockholm. The same goes for hulahoop and dance workouts and dinners with friends – all on Zoom! After 18 months, I sometimes feel as if the walls are closing in on me. One advantage is that my patio gardens have never looked so good! Now I’m glad I can start to get out again and also have people visit the house for guided tours.

Have you got any tips for books and films relating to this year’s conference theme?
Museum Het Schip has made a great short film about its new project on World Garden Cities – an idea that was very influential in the Netherlands as in many other countries. The book Minitopia – only in Dutch unfortunately – has lots of ideas for building your own compact and sustainable home today, very much in the experimental Dutch tradition of last century.

Click here for the teaser Home as Self-Portrait: Architect's Houses.

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 20 July 2021