As many of us have been more confined to our quarters than usual over the past pandemic year, the domestic sphere has taken on a new importance. Though a heightened awareness of our own living rooms may not be the kind of enlightenment we were seeking during this time of enforced contemplation, hope is at hand. The homes tour—that particularly North American ritual in which archiphiles take yearly excursions to gaze longingly at other people’s living rooms—has gone global and, increasingly, virtual. Now, access to gorgeous light-filled post-and-beam interiors boasting Eames chairs and Jacobsen love seats is available with the click of a mouse.
Forward-thinking art museums, like Canada’s West Vancouver Art Museum—a treasure trove of vulnerable midcentury modernism that the beloved institution actively champions—are making their home tours entirely virtual. By way of an hour-long film , you can now take in highlights including the 1972 Paul Merrick house, a stunning exercise in organic architecture comprising 16 different levels. A canvas for shifting patterns of shadow and light, its indoor-outdoor aesthetic blurs boundaries in a through-the-looking-glass way. From the same vintage, Arthur Erickson’s 1972 Eppich House 1 renders West Coast post-and-beam architecture in concrete, a material he once called “the marble of our time.” Erickson’s own home—a converted garage—and his stunning Japanese-inspired garden are open for in-person tours and will soon be available as part of livestreamed visits.
Farther south, in California, the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center’s official tour, which includes the Albert Frey House II, nestled into the San Jacinto Mountains and overlooking the city and the Coachella Valley, is run via Julius Shulman–expert Michael Stern’s Modern Tour. A hybrid of virtual and actual, the museum tour offers a seven-minute video of the Frey House that is the next best thing to being there. For more intrepid travelers, in-person, socially distanced tours for the fully vaccinated also include William Cody’s Glass House, the elegant 1967 residence with wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling glass, as well as the Frederick Loewe (the composer of musicals like My Fair Lady and Camelot) estate that grew from a small midcentury cabin into a modernist masterpiece.
Meanwhile, the Modern Architecture and Design Society, an Austin–and–NYC–based business established in 2010 by architectural photographer James Leasure, showcases homes across the U.S. both virtually and actually. Virtual events are a hybrid of prefilmed/photographed content and live interaction via a 360˚ interactive model that takes global viewers through the homes and enables them to ask questions of the architects. Tours focus on both midcentury modernism as well as more contemporary designs.
Down Under there appears to be great enthusiasm for the homes tour, with a number of virtual and actual events available, according to various levels of lockdown in different states and territories. Though the Sydney Living Museum’s 1950 Rose Seidler house remains closed until further notice, and their tour of iconic homes has been postponed indefinitely with no virtual options currently available, historian Stuart Symons’s Modernist Adelaide has upcoming walking tours of important midcentury houses, with ample videography of both on his site.
In Melbourne, DIY tours of the stylish Beaumaris district are recommended, as are visits to Robin Boyd’s Walsh Street house. Luckily for the mouse clickers in their living rooms, there are the 2020 Virtual Open Houses, which represent the best of Australian contemporary new builds, additions, extensions, and heritage restorations.
In France, for those not able to travel to Montpellier to see Jean Balladur’s La Grande Motte or to Marseille to tour Le Corbusier’s La Ville Radieuse, there are a few intriguing YouTube options like this animated drive-through, this documentary in French, and this 360˚ degree tour.
Just in time for Freedom Day in the U.K., tours of the * brutalist Barbican Centre are on through the end of August (with YouTube *and virtual options ranging from the sublime to the endearingly geeky), while the 20th Century Society offers tours of Lawn Road Flats in Belsize Park, and socially distanced walking tours of postwar flats in Bethnal Green and 1930’s Hammersmith architecture. Also, the National Trust has 2 Willow Road in Hampstead, designed by Hungarian-Jewish Marxist and Le Corbusier–inspired Ernö Goldfinger, open for tours.
Tel Aviv, the city with the largest number of Bauhaus buildings in the world, is on every archiphile’s map. While the annual Houses from Within tour happened earlier this summer, the Bauhaus Center runs regular tours of the White City. The 4,000-strong collection of buildings from the 1930’s that spreads across 347 acres, designed in a unique form of the International Style adapted for the Middle Eastern climate by Jewish architects from Germany and Central and Eastern Europe, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Happily, the Center now offers virtual tours to complement their actual ones, available via WhatsApp. One can only hope that virtual tours of Ramallah, in Palestine, will soon include that city’s considerable wealth of Bauhaus buildings as well. For the politically and architecturally curious, a journey to Rehovot, 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv, to the Eric Mendelsohn–designed home of Chaim Weizmann, who played a significant role in actualizing the Balfour Declaration, is recommended—with some limited virtual options.
While “in” the area, architectural walking tours of Lebanon, as offered by London–based E-Architects, include Oscar Niemeyer’s 1962 ill-fated yet still gorgeous Tripoli fairgrounds, nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status in 2018, as well as the nearby Nahr el-Bared refugee camp. Beirut offerings include the Dakota apartments in Ashrafieh and the Zaha Hadid–designed Issam Fares Institute building at the AUB. But these tours are strictly in person.
In the same boat is one of the region’s most compelling house tours, the 1967 Tehran residence/studio turned museum of the renowned Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli. The only house by architect Kamran Diba—cousin to empress Farah Pahlavi—who also designed the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the Tanavoli Museum contains many of the artist’s seminal works, including his brass-plated Simorgh, the fabled Persian guardian bird that watches over Iran. Several pieces were stolen by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime and Tanavoli—who now lives mainly in West Vancouver—had to fight to get them back and keep the museum operational. A virtual tour was removed from the artist’s website for security reasons, but many of the works on display can still be seen online. For the adventurous traveler, private free tours can be arranged by contacting email@example.com.
For those truly committed to contemplating the world’s best residential architecture from their own living rooms, consider the Iconic Houses website, which offers virtual visits to global architectural gems.
(Architectural Digest, photo silentSama Architectural photgraphy)