Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Semi - detached



There is a horror movie called House (1986) that's the most eloquent description of the odd relationship we have with our homes. It features a Vietnam vet turned horror author with writers block who inherits his aunts house after she has hung herself in it. Gradually, he finds himself battling with the house. Monsters burst out of the closet at midnight, doors lead into different dimensions, a mounted fish and various garden tools come to life. It shows that homes are only half real estate the rest is in our head.

We're all at war with our homes, just not quite as dramatically. The light bulb that keeps blowing, the tap that won't stop dripping, the cupboard that's not quite big enough. All these mundane details expose the uncomfortable fit between the house and the lives lived within it. Stairs become shelves, beds become tables, sinks become dustbins, gardens become strewn with discarded furniture. Homes spiral away from what they were meant to be.

Meanwhile, architects wage their own kind of war on the house. Reinventing it as anything but the traditional pitched roofed icon: a pod, a parasite, a Mobius strip. For architects houses are a kind of yardstick against which they can measure themselves. A house is a kind of set piece which demonstrates what makes them different from everyone else and show just how radical they are.

For artists, the house is just as fascinating an object but in an entirely opposite way. Not through reinventing the form, but investigating the idea. Perhaps there is something that architects might learn about housing by looking at this kind of work. Something that might help them overcome their ridiculously optimistic utopian sentiments and actually engage with the world around them.

Which is why I'm walking around the replica version of his parent's semi-detached house that Michael Landy built inside Tate Britain. It's everything an architect wouldn't do with a house because it's so ordinary - an ordinary house shape made out of ordinary materials, with ordinary additions (an ordinary satellite dish, ordinary net curtains). Except that it is quite extraordinary. As though picked up in Essex by a hurricane and dumped like Dorothy's house in the cultural fantasy land of the Tate's Duveen Galleries. Juxtaposed with the neo-classical interior, forming narrow alleys between stock brick walls and Victorian grandeur.

Looking at an ordinary house in the rarefied atmosphere of an art gallery makes you look in a different way. Standing, stroking my chin looking at a section of brickwork with rainwater downpipe in a way that would alert neighbourhood watch. Maybe because it's in the sculpture galleries, I'm kind of expecting sculptural things to happen, looking at a bay window with the expectation of the sensation of looking at Rodin's The Kiss (1901-04). I'm starting to hallucinate sculptural marks where in any other context they'd be bodged construction - the traces of the paintbrush in the glossed window frames, the feeding of a wire through a ventilation brick, the thumbprint in a lump of Blu-Tac holding the doorbell in place. Imagine Anthony Caro up a ladder fixing the guttering and Anish Kapoor spraying on pebbledash in a spiritual way. Ironically, this sculpture of a house is a lot less sculptural than the houses as sculpture that contemporary architects crave.

The attention to detail shown in Landy's house is a satanic version of an architect's obsession. Open a monograph on a contemporary architect and you'll see close up photographs freezing the moment that materials meet, shot with all the romance of Robert Doisneaus Kiss by the Hotel de Ville (1950) crossed with the pornographic view of one thing slotting into another. Landys recreations of decay, age and imperfection twist the concept of detailing. Through the detail, architecture reaches for authenticity with truth to materials and honesty of construction. Semi-detached (2004) has a different order of truth. Not the architects professional truth, but a warm human honesty.

All these details show the passing of time over the house. In this sense it is in the tradition of the picturesque. Ruskin differentiated between high and low picturesque. Low picturesque wallowed in aesthetic sentimentality. High picturesque identified with the pain and suffering experienced in the landscape. High picturesque was in effect a beautiful type of political and social critique. Here it is in blistered paintwork, dodgy wiring and bolted on satellite dish.

The picturesque landscape was populated with pseudo-ruined follies and symbols of mythical pasts that evoked a sense of deep sincere nostalgia. Landys house might part of a new kind of picturesque, one that mythologises the very recent past. A doorbell held together with Blue-Tac rather than a ruined temple.

This modern picturesque might also include George Shaws views into the beautiful boringness of post-war new towns. It suggests parks full of carefully burnt out Vauxhall Novas, water features based around semi-submerged shopping trolleys, a manicured wasteland with charmingly graffitied substations and topiary Kebab shops designed by the love child of Capability Brown and Corinne Day.

Other artists have shoved houses into galleries. Elizabeth Wright built a fragment of a bungalow at Londons The Showroom in 1996. The bungalow was based on a 1940s design by the Stepney Reconstruction Group. It represented the kind of home that local residents preferred to the blocks of flats proposed in the County of London Plan.

Sometimes it's not about the complexity of politics but the sheer weirdness of putting something in the wrong place. Mathieu Merciers Pavillon (2003) is a life-size fibreglass caricature of a house that looks like it's freshly popped into existence. It's kind of banal and kind of lovely at the same time, mimicking the oddness of Polly Pocket dolls houses at a grand scale.

Putting a house inside a gallery is one way to shift meaning. Putting a gallery around a house is another. At the Bunny Lane House, Adam Kalkin built an industrial shed around a small, two-storey house in New Jersey. It might be architecture in the name of art, or perhaps the other way around. Whichever, the original house changes in all kinds of ways. The porch becomes an extension of the lounge, the roof and drainage, which once made the house habitable, become decorative. It explores the Modernist interest in the relationship between the interior and the exterior from an alternative angle.

This kind of addition to a readymade recalls the Smithsons Solar Pavilion 1961-2). They purchased a small house, knocked almost everything down, keeping the chimney. They then built what looks like the 34th and 35th floors of a Soviet ministry around it. The building articulates the sentimental trail of smoke from a cottage chimney, using at as icon of houseiness against the abstration of the new addition. It suggests the warmth of the hearth on a cold winters day, Alison and Peter toasting marshmallows in a New Brutalist idyll. Identifying the fireplace and the chimney as the raw infrastructural heart of a home the thing that historically made homes warm enough to be habitable. A kind of ye olde servicing doing for northern Europe what airconditioning does for Florida. The chimney-as-infrastructure is at the heart of Michael Sailstorfers '3 Ster mit Ausblick' (2002). It is a film of a cabin being broken down and burnt piece by piece in its own stove till there is nothing left but the glowing chimney against the dusk sky. Its an auto-cannibalistic accelerated ruin where the building consumes itself. Like an aircrash survivor forced to chew off their own arm to escape, it suggests the terrible potential of even the simplest of homes.

The house-in-the wrong-place has a heritage that is not art or architecture, but everyday surrealism. The centrepiece of Londons Ideal Home show, organised annually by the Daily Mail, fare the full size homes built by volume housebuilding companies. In design for leisure it's an old fashioned trick to build something that's supposed to be outside inside. You can see it in the pan tile canopies over the bar in Italian restaurants. And if you ever fly out of the UK you'll more than likely get a chance for a swift airside pint at the Shakespeare pub. These are a franchise of fully functioning full size pub replicas slotted into clean aluminium-clad departure lounges. You can sit outside as the sign sways in the light breeze of the air-conditioning. These replica buildings might have the intention of being entertainment but they also do all of the things that high art replicas do too.

The question is 'Why do so many contemporary architects spend their time rejecting everything that we know about houses?'. These other approaches show that through exploring the familiar that one can really get under the skin of houses. After all, every house is a haunted house, even ones that haven't yet been built.

first published in contemporary



Posted by anothersam at July 3, 2004 10:16 AM.

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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

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