D-House 3, IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
Anyone today who wants to create something living must incorporate everything that currently lives.
– Josef Frank
In the 1920s, during the interwar period in Central Europe, Josef Frank was one of modernism’s most prominent figures and pioneers, something that would change in just a matter of years. He became increasingly critical of modern architecture’s monotone expression, which he considered to be both austere and limiting. It was based on the material rather than the soulful, something that Josef Frank strongly opposed. He had another architectural vision and formulated his thoughts in the 1931 book, Architektur als Symbol (Architecture as Symbol): “Anyone today who wants to create something living must incorporate everything that currently lives”.
When the Austrian architect came to Sweden in 1933, he became successful mainly as a furniture and print designer through the collaboration with Svenskt Tenn’s founder Estrid Ericson.
“Josef Frank nourished a dream of continuing his architectural career in Sweden. He had previously designed a number of summerhouses in Falsterbo and began to work on his last one – Villa Wehtje – which was completed in 1936,” says Mikael Bergquist, architect and co-author of the book Accidentism.
Everything was on the verge of being kitsch and therefore went beyond the limit of what was considered to be “good taste”.
“It was much later, in correspondence with his friend Dagmar Grill in 1947, that Josef Frank got the inspiration to take on a fantasy project of a dream estate – to design buildings that wouldn’t necessarily be realised. He took the opportunity and created, in a very short time, thirteen masterful fantasy houses, which in many ways have come to embody Josef Frank’s vision as an architect.”
Through the fantasy houses, Josef Frank investigated a variety of different ideas and whims – always with human movement and the flow of the room as his point of departure. He was inspired by both modern and traditional architecture and combined different colours with materials such as stucco, stone and brick. Thirteen fantasy houses took shape during 1947 and Josef Frank subsequently created ten additional variations.
Double D-House 4, IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
Triple-House, IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
In Double-D-House or “Giraffe House”, which it later came to be called, embedded boulders were placed side-by-side pink plaster, windows of various shapes and uneven contours. Architecture was constantly being tested to the limits. Everything was on the verge of being kitsch and therefore went beyond the limit of what was considered to be “good taste”.
“You could say that back in the 1940s, Josef Frank predicted the postmodernism and eclecticism of the 60 and 70s. Beyond criticising the monotonous architecture, his ambition was to formulate a strategy to move away from conformity to the soulful,” says Mikael.
Today the fantasy houses can be seen as the culmination of Josef Frank’s work as an architect, where everything was timeless, permissible and inclusive
“He was against the idea of the architect as the all-knowing artiste and the idea that every part of the home should be coherent. On the contrary, he felt that something that you like on its own should simply blend into the same peaceful whole. Such thinking didn’t make an immediate impact, but took some years to take hold. It’s really just now, in recent times that we can see how meaningful this was.”
Today the fantasy houses can be seen as the culmination of Josef Frank’s work as an architect, where everything was timeless, permissible and inclusive. The “House number 9” sketch, with its undulating form, illustrates Josef Frank’s thoughts in the magazine Form from 1958 where, for the first time, he put words to the philosophy that had been developing since his time back in Vienna. He called it “Accidentism” or “Chances philosophy” – the notion that surroundings should be created as if they had arisen by chance.
D-House 9, IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design