Strangeharvest is a collection of writing and projects about architecture and design. Strangeharvest is made by Sam Jacob.
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MTV Cribs

Missys Crib in amazing Planometric Vision!
missy3.jpgLike Jackass' "Human Omelette" - where Dave England munches, swallows and regurgitates the raw ingredients into a sizzlin' pan - MTV is simultaneously the laziest and most creative channel on your digibox. 

Guilty after bingeing on R'n'B videos, MTV bolemicaly sticks its fingers down its throat and throws up sharp, self critical TV bile: Beavis and Buttheads poignant badly drawn insult-your-audience; Celebrity Deathmatch plastacine reality TV satire; Jackass' life-as-art DV stunts. At its best, MTV is as direct as Damien Hirst, as wise as Warhol and as prophetic as Orwell.

Cribs is the closest MTV gets to a design show. As one of the standout shows on a global network with an audience of 1 billion, it's the most popular architectural media · ever. Perhaps us architects should momentarily swap those ungainly Harvard Guides for a remote control.

More accurately, the genre is reality/celebrity/design. Music stars, actors and models show off their homes in 5-minute segments followed by a Steadycam. The camera swoops, zooms, and wobbles with a first person POV - like a horror movie monster interested in interior design.

Unlike the carefully framed view from the Hello sofa, Cribs worldview is casual, informal and anti-glam. It's dirty, amateur porn to Hellos airbrushed Playboy. Raw, real and as authentic as design media gets. Celebrating luxury while undermining it with ordinariness.  Just hear that lonely clunk of spoon on bowlful of Froot Loops echoing down marble lined hallways. 

Cribs shows homes that warp ideas of houses. Houses that are endlessly extendable like the abdomen of a super stretched limo. At the exotic end of the scale:

Tommy Lee: A Starbucks franchise installed in his home studio (complete with mugs and other merchandise); Zen garden for meditation; disco floor for all-night parties; an unobstructed view from bed to shower. 

Missy Elliot: Giant chrome lettering spelling Missy stacked in a pond in the middle of her living room; Lamborghini furniture; fish tank armchair; submarine style door flanked by reconstituted stone Etruscan uplighters; a Ferrari converted into a bed with a remote controlled trunk full of choicest sneakers. 

Sebastian Bach, Skid Rows ex lead singer: a fountain with a foot-high bust of Gene Simmons head, tongue extended, viscous red fluid pouring from its gaping mouth. Quote: "I wouldn't feel complete unless I had a ceramic contraption that puked blood 24 hours a day."

Outkast: a home pole dancing set up.

Despite this freakish exoticism, Cribs are modelled on ordinary, everyday suburbia  -  just super-sized, and hothoused into a gigantic ordinariness. Suburban sensibility with the scale of a Palazzo.

Cribs shows us the conflict between wonder and emptiness that's at the heart of our relationship with our homes. When Snoop, wandering around his house opens a door, looks around and says " ain't seen this wing before", he's not so much lost in the supermarket as adrift in domesticity.  Aren't we all confused and confounded by our own homes (as much as we love them)? From the dusty fondue set at the back the kitchen cupboard to the useless wardrobe towering like a beast of prey.

Cribs shows us homes as vulnerable, exciting, pointless and egocentric places. Variously cute, futuristic, modernist, but always deeply human. And humanity is the bit that architects struggle with. Style is the interface between our identity and design. For architects however, it is the obsession that dare not speak its name ? despite being their primary means of categorising "good" and "bad".

Here is Rem Koolhass' executive lounge rage at (bad) contemporary aesthetics: "13% of all Junkspace's iconography goes back to the Romans, 8% Bauhaus, 7% Disney - neck and neck - 3% Art Nouveau, followed closely by Mayan." Me? I'd probably bump the Art Nouveau for "Jungle Hut" or "Space Gothic". 

Junkspace is a linguistic derivative of other modern junks, particularly food. Apparently, it smothers old-fashioned (healthy) architectural space like spray-on cream. My secret shame is how good it tastes.

Most Cribs have glittering kitchens with high end cooking equipment. Fridge contents: Cristal and frozen pizza. This diet is straight out of my new Deleuze and Guattari themed restaurant - 1000 Platters. On the menu is Prousts "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu" in Alphabetti Spaghetti. And don't miss the Roland Barthes Valentines Creole menu: Lovers Dis Course followed by Lovers Dat Course. If you've ever enjoyed poached salmon at 35,000 feet above the spawning pools of Nova Scotia you too will wonder at the possibility, let alone the desire for, authenticity.  At least in the old Modernist sense.

Mythical rockband riders demonstrate the magical transformation of something very ordinary. Demanding trays of only black jellybeans brings conneseurship more often associated with delicacies to everyday sweets. The lesson? It's not what you want, but the way that you want it.

These fantastical explosions of domestic architecture written large, bold and fast are radical experiments in housing. They explore complicated suburban individualism. Cribs use an architectural language that might be described as Pop Vernacular. At a guess, Cribs homes are 30% Spanish, 10% New England Colonial, 5% Modern, 20% Mock Tudor, 5% renaissance, 5% Elizabethan, 5% Roman. Not junk, but carefully selected elements from all of time and space. Liberated from their functional origins - local materials, skills, climate, traditions - they become powerful ciphers for individual identity. The Pop Vernacular is happy to work with all kinds of un-architectural languages: cute, nostalgic, homely. It's consumerism made into architecture. Plural and expansive, global and inclusive: An inverted International Style. 

While architects communicate with their own esoteric literature (like this article), generations of clients are enjoying something completely different. Is it a traditional high/low culture divergence? A way of conveniently dismissing differences in architectural cultures? Perhaps there is an architecture explores rather than reinforces taste cultures. Armed with a Harvard Guide and a remote control, the next season of Cribs will be truly fantastic.

cover cover

First Published in Icon

Posted by sam at May 16, 2004 10:06 PM
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