30 January 2019
Sometimes architecture is able to tell a story with such a complex and fascinating plot that it vies with the beauty of the work itself. This is what has happened with the splendid house built by Russell Jones in the municipality of Waalre, not far from Eindhoven. It was from here, at the end of the 19th century, that Gerard and Anton Philips ran the eponymous technology company of which they were the founders. Following the expansion of its production in the early decades of the 20th century Philips, in an effort to attract new managers from other parts of the Netherlands, offered them excellent working conditions and a site on which to build a new house, close to their workplace and set amidst greenery. In fact the area where Villa Waalre now stands was occupied in those years by the residence of Frans Otten, CEO of Philips until 1961, a building designed by Louis Christiaan Kalff, who was not just the creator of numerous iconic objects in the field of lighting design but also the man responsible for the encounter between Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis and Edgar Varèse, who worked together on the celebrated Philips Pavilion for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. The new house designed by Jones has immediately established a strong relationship with its surroundings and takes the inspiration for its volumes from the topography of the site, from the views that motivate the composition and orientation of the house and from the correspondence between inside and outside. While a long rectangular swimming pool and a gym are located on the subterranean level of the villa, two volumes above ground, one set on top of the other, contain the living spaces on the ground floor and the rest areas on the level above. Here the overhanging volume, which makes a strong mark on the character of the residence, houses two bedrooms that have a superb view of the forest. While openings, treated as framings of the landscape, are located on all fronts, the material utilized also serves to forcefully express the personality of the building. Built with partition walls of reinforced concrete, Villa Waalre reflects the texture of the bark of the surrounding fir trees in the pattern left by the grain of the rough deal planks used for the formwork on all the house’s surfaces, establishing an even greater continuity with the natural setting. In this work, Russell Jones has shown his ability to impress a markedly contemporary character on a building that explicitly declares its ties with the principles of modern architecture. Like the house, the professional activity of its designer reveals his links with modernism and its legacy. In fact, before embarking on a career spent between Australia, the United States and London, where he still has his studio, Jones worked as an assistant to the Australian architect Harry Seidler (born in Vienna), who was in turn a pupil of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at Harvard. In Australia, Seidler had been an exponent of the principles of the Modern Movement, as well as the designer of such fine buildings as Julian Rose House (1949-50).