The Owner Built Homestead - Volume 4, Chapter 3: Free Form Archtecture

In the end you might opt for a conventional structure, but at least consider building a homestead that borrows ideas from free-form architecture.

| March/April 1972

free form architecture - Belgium house 1962

Free-form house in Belgium, 1962.


Ken Kern, author of The Owner-Built Home and The Owner-Built Homestead, is an amazing fellow and everyone interested in decentralist, back-to-the-land, rational living should know of his work. Back in 1948 he began collecting information on low-cost, simple and natural construction materials and techniques. He combed the world for ideas, tried them and started writing about his experiments. We're excerpting chapters from Owner-Built Home and Owner-Built Homestead. In this chapter from Homestead, he discusses the application of concepts pioneered in free form architecture to houses. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

During World War I architect Gaudi was busy developing a new curving free-form architecture in Spain; architect Rudolf Steiner was independently establishing metaphysical credence to the curving free-forms of his famed Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. At the close of the war a group of architecturally disillusioned German designers formed a discussion group for purposes of exploring the problems of establishing an improved house. Gaudi and Steiner were searched out, and a "round-robin" correspondence began which lasted for some 20 years. Mendelsohn, Kiesler and Finsterlin continued in their search for an entirely new free-form building style, but most of the original group were wooed into the more prosperous International Style.

In more recent years a group of younger architects are building upon what was learned from the German pioneers. Foremost among these are the Italian, Leonardo Ricci; the Americans, Paolo Soleri and Bruce Goff; the Brazilian, Oscar Niemeyer; the Mexican, Juan O'Gorman; and the Britishers, Hans Hollein and Walter Pichler.

There is a great deal about the free-form house that is applicable to owner-builder construction. This type of building is not a mere freeflow art form or a return to nature, but, as Kiesler states, "it derives from living a life dedicated to fundamentals rather than to mechanized equipment and interior decoration." The measurements of the final form and shape of the house are determined by actual requirements in height, width, and depth of the various areas designed for eating, sleeping, living and working. Every defined function can be closed off from other areas or opened up, making one continuous space. Finsterlin talked of the New House as being organic: a person inside such a house would be as inside an organism, wandering from organ to organ, "the giving and receiving symbiont of a giant fossil mother body."

Designers of free-form homes feel that there should be a greater independence from our constantly increasing automated way of life. By way of architecture they seek to encourage a more natural way of living. Kiesler talks of basing his house on simple, healthful, and direct ways of living, where work can also be recreational.

One basic difference between the free-form building type and traditional houses is that the free-form building is continuous shell, not post and beam construction. The floor of a free-form room curves at the rim into wall, and the wall curves uninterrupted into ceiling. Much thought has gone into the elimination of the flat horizontal plane as the area of movement for people. The traditional solid and opaque floor would cut through a free-form room like a "pathological diaphragm." Glassy, transparent floors were therefore included in the plan:

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