Sunday, 9 March 2008

Two different views of architecture

I've just seen the most lovely little house. The Micro Compact Home, designed by Richard Horden, is a marvellously zen creation - a small space, but light and clear, costing EUR 30,000 or so before installation. It's taken ideas from the Japanese tea house as well as from interiors where compactness is at a premium, such as yachts, and it's used modern technology to create a delightfully spare architecture.

There's already a student village installed in Munich. But most interesting to me were some of the more avant garde projects; for instance, installing MCHs in a spire or 'tree village' around a lift shaft, further developing the theme of lightness and transparence that informs the design. Or the 'Golden Cube' designed as a floating house for the Venetian lagoon (floating houses are one interesting way of adapting to rising sea levels, but what interests me particularly is the way the water is different seen from water level - from a boat or a sandbank).

This tiny, 2.6 cubic metre house wouldn't be easy to live in permanently - though two or three added together might create an interesting, free-form house. (Bedroom, living room, studio...) But it seems exactly right for a low-impact, resitable house in the woods or on the saltmarsh - a sort of Thoreau residence.

A completely different view of architecture comes from the Atelier Van Lieshout with its quirky representational houses. There's a 'Wellness Skull' which contains a sauna, and shoots steam out of its eye sockets, and a house in Belgium modelled on the human digestive system. This is taking organic shapes to their extreme - not a single straight line to be seen anywhere.

The one thing that seems to link the works of both practices is that they clearly believe architecture isn't value-free, ideologically pure. Lieshout refers to sex, power, ideas of gender and of what humans are all about - the architecture reflects humanity. And the Micro Compact Home isn't just a soulless attempt to create a cheap pre-fab, but an idea of creating a modern home that can be impact-free, that can adjust to its environment and be transparent to the world around it.

I don't think I'd want to live in an intestine-house. And I do think I'd like to live in a Golden Cube. But it's refreshing to come across architects who are doing our dreaming for us - which Horden and Lieshout, I think, are doing.

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