The Uniform Wares team has always had a soft spot for Modernist architecture, so it’s a genuine delight for us to be hosting a book signing for author Stefi Orazi’s latest publication, Modernist Estates Europe next Wednesday 29 May.
From the pre-war Viennese Werkbund Estate (designed by the likes of Gerrit Rietveld and Adolf Loos), the post-war Swiss Siedlung Halen (by Atelier 5) to more recent builds such as the Medina Complex in Eindhoven (Neave Brown), Modernist Estates: Europe showcases 15 housing schemes through archival and contemporary photography, alongside a series of interviews with current residents. This beautifully designed book takes an inside look at how these estates are inhabited today and examines the differences and similarities between estates across Europe.
To accompany the upcoming signing in our London atelier, we asked Stefi a few questions about her travels and research into the subject.
How did the idea for Modernist Estates: Europe and its predecessor Modernist Estates come about?
By accident really. I used to live on Golden Lane Estate — the scheme next to the Barbican by Chamberlin Powell and Bon. I had a lovely apartment there, but it was tiny at only 27 square metres. I decided to start looking for a bigger flat to buy, but I couldn’t afford to stay in the area so I started researching other estates in London which were more affordable. I became obsessed with trawling through online property sites, and began compiling my finding onto a blog. I had been spoilt in that I had only ever lived in either the Barbican or Golden Lane since moving to London from University. I wanted to know the ins and outs of what it was like to live in some of the other estates in London before committing to move elsewhere, so I began to interview friends, or friends of friends who lived in architecturally significant schemes and put these interviews onto the blog also.
The website began to get a bit of a following and I was approached by Nicki Davis from Frances Lincoln publishers to turn the interviews into a book. So that’s how the first book came about, it featured 21 housing schemes in the UK. Doing a European version seemed like a natural progression.
Did your experience in visiting places and putting together this new book differ any from when you did the same in the UK?
Completely. The first book was quite organic, as I mentioned many of the interviewees were friends, or sometimes random people that contacted me and asked to be included on the blog. So the whole process of finding people was quite straightforward. For the Europe book I knew which estates I wanted to feature, but getting strangers to open up their homes to me was a lot harder. It involved a lot of travelling and leaflet dropping. I worked on all the aspects of the book — the research, writing, photography through to designing it — but finding people was the most time consuming. If I had the budget and the time it would have been great to get somebody to do this part of the job.
Do you think there has been a shift in society’s perception of Modernist architecture from the time you published your first book?
In the main probably not. I think the majority of people still struggle with purpose built postwar housing as the media has given it such a bad reputation over the years. I think for a younger more creative generation, where they see less of a stigma to ex-council housing and can appreciate that this era of housing was designed by some of the best architects, there has been a shift.
When my first book came out in 2015 there weren’t many books on the subject but soon after came a plethora of publications on Brutalism. There’s been a fetishising of concrete over the last few years through Instagram etc, which I’m not sure is necessarily a good thing. I feel if something becomes really fashionable it’ll then soon be out of fashion. I hope my books help to see beyond the concrete and the exterior and give an insight to how these estates are faring and lived in today — both good and bad.
Can you tell us a little more about your next project? We’ve seen your research on Instagram and cannot wait to see the finished book!
Yes! I’m really excited about this one. When I was finishing the writing of the Europe book I spent a few days in La Tourette, a monastery by Le Corbusier near Lyon in France. A friend of mine had told me about it. Only a few friars live there today and the rest of the rooms are rented out like a hotel — of sorts. It’s a powerful looking building, but inside it’s incredibly peaceful. You get a little ‘cell’ to sleep in which has just enough room for a single bed and a desk, and there’s a little balcony that looks onto woodland. It was the perfect spot to do my writing, especially as you are not allowed to talk inside the building. When I came back another friend of mine told me about Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist Ski Resort in Flaine, and from there sparked the idea of compiling a publication of interesting Modernist places that you can either stay in or visit for the day. The book (Modernist Escapes) will be published in Autumn 2020.
What would be your favourite Modernist building to live in if was money no object?
That’s a really hard question. I’ve just spent a month travelling by train across Europe visiting the most incredible houses. I think I would probably take the ideas and designs from a number of houses and build my own. Preferably by the sea and on stilts.
To attend the Modernist Estates Europe book signing next Wednesday, sign up below.