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Genuine and True Houses

This month in Habitus #14 Paul McGillick explores the notions of house and home, in an essay about three books. Here we get a taste of what he is speaking about…

The notion of house-as-home understands the home as an experiential phenomenon focussed first on the body as the primary source of experience, and place as the other key source of experience – with place involving an internalised accretion of physical and cultural knowledge. This is what is known as habitus.

More recently, this phenomenological school of architectural philosophy has been represented by Finnish architect and writer, Juhani Pallasmaa who has written the introduction to Alvar Aalto Houses.

The book is organised chronologically (periods in Aalto’s evolving practice) and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen provides contextualising introductions to each section with detailed project descriptions. The generous photography and reproductions of Aalto’s original plans and sketches makes this an absorbing book.

Australian architect, Peter Stutchbury, may not seem at first sight to be an inheritor of Aalto, but essentially he is – in his response to place, his sensitivity to individual clients, his imaginative use of materials, his love of customised solutions (especially in the joinery, and his insistence on a unity of habitation, both within the house and between the inside and outside.

This book Under the Edge is lavishly illustrated with Stutchbury’s projects divided into two – Projects in Brief and Projects in Detail. The former is illustrated by black and white photos, the latter by Michael Nicholson’s fine colour photographs and Stutchbury’s own beautifully expressive, if restrained sketches.

Aalto, of course, designed a number of fascinating summer houses. In recent years, the summer house in New Zealand – known as a bach – has become almost a typology, and certainly the occasion of some wonderful experimentation. Once again we are dealing with genius loci. If Aalto’s rural homes are quintessentially Finnish, then the bach is quintessentially New Zealand and typically takes full advantage of the country’s staggeringly beautiful coastal and mountain locations.


Summer Houses is more a coffee table book with brief project descriptions and lavish photography. But you won’t find the usual ostentatious suspects in here – because what marks New Zealand residential design is its integrity, its lack of pretention and its reassuring individualism. It takes us back to Aalto – an architecture which is ‘imperfect’, which adapts to the inhabitants’ way of life, which does not set out to control, but goes with the flow.

Under the Edge – The Architecture of Peter Stutchbury

Edited by Ewan McEoin

Photography by Michael Nicholson

Published and distributed by the Architecture Foundation of Australia

288pp, hardcover



Alvar Aalto Houses

Jari Jetsonen and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen

Introduction by Juhani Pallasmaa

Published by Princeton Architectural Press

Distributed in Australia by books@manic

224pp, hardcover



Summer Houses

Andrea Stevens

Photography by Simon Devitt

Published and distributed by Penguin Books

208pp, softcover



Read the full story in the latest issue Habitus #14, on newsstands 7 December, 2011. Or subscribe here.