Monday, May 4, 2009

gins and arakawa - sheltering hope

a long ago blog entry by kay itoi sent me back in time to my high school years when i briefly toyed with the idea of becoming an architect. the small details of not having the math, science, or art marks to justify such a choice relegated it to the heap of might-have-beens that i occasionally reflect on.

for much of my teen years i lived in suburbia - still do - and i longed (and still long) for something architecturally different and unique. it's tough growing up in suburbia when you look at the homes around you and see the same range of dated solutions to the challenge of providing shelter. my own sense is that most suburban homes have very little to do with the actual needs of their owners nevermind their aesthetic sensibilities. much of what i see corresponds to a sense of entitlement and defines the need to be connected to something that suggests whatever degree of wealth or "landedness" the owner wishes to convey to those who live nearby or are simply passing through.

when i was much much younger, expo 67 came around. do you remember that? it was set in montreal and among its many highlights was a structure that in some way defined not only that particular moment in time but described an aspiration to a way of thinking about structures that resonates quietly through to today. the structure i'm thinking and writing about was named habitat. habitat was "designed to integrate the variety and diversity of scattered private homes with the economics and density of a modern apartment building. modular, interlocking concrete forms define the space. the project was designed to create affordable housing with close but private quarters, each equipped with a garden. the building was believed to illustrate the new lifestyle people would live in increasingly crowded cities around the world." (wiki)

here's habitat during the day. (click in the image to enlarge it)

and in the evening.

to the casual eye it's a scruffy mishmash of cobbled together bits. but look, and think about what you're looking at, and really what you're seeing is a concrete representation of what most people aspire to which is a space that is uniquely their own that accepts the connection we all have to each other. there is something much more human about that structure than there is in the rectangular prisms, each of which contains hundreds of smaller rectangular prisms that dominate our downtowns.

oh and the blog entry i mentioned right at the beginning. well here's what it's talking about:

now how cool is that?!! designed by the architectural collaborative madeleine gins and arakawa this structure defines for me the quintessence of that point at which shelter meets human need and most especially the need to express uniqueness. they have also designed a hotel.

gins and arakawa meld art, architecture and a deeply spiritual understanding of the place of human beings in this world and in particular of their right not to have to die. as you might expect, their thinking is not only practically but philosophically out-of-the-box. here's a taste: "do you want to live in an apartment or house that can help you determine the nature and extent of interactions between you and the universe? what lengths would you be willing to go to, or how much inconvenience would you be willing to put up with, in order to counteract the usual human destiny of having to die?"

to learn more about the extraordinary work of gins and arakawa and the thinking behind it then you should visit their website.


Goldenrod said...

The hotel made me laugh out loud, Steven! I mean, ye gods!! (I certainly understand the concept of being/feeling unique and important, but still! It didn't look all that structurally viable to me but then I'm not an architect nor even an engineer, so what do I know?)

My idea of a "perfect" house would be one very similar to a simple A-frame (warm-looking wood -- I'm an old-fashioned gal, what can I say?) with a lot of interior design 'wrinkles' somewhere out in the deep woods (running stream that would be canoeing-friendly with catchable and edible brook trout within a very near distance) ... with all the amenities of city living, but w/o the immediate neighbors. Impossible, of course, but one can dream, right?

I DID click to enlarge "Habitat". The architect/s were obviously trying to design apartment/condo-type living spaces that would appear from the inside as tho they were separate structures. The idea is nice. Kind of reminds me of a restaurant we had here in Houston years ago ... "Los Troncos" (the tree house) was its name, I think ... built around this humongous tree ... circular stairs, varying levels and angled doorways throughout ... went there to eat several times. Initially, you would think you were in there all by yourself, but then - after a while, you realized that there were a lot of other people in there as well.

Unfortunately, it succumbed to a massive fire and was not rebuilt. (Probably is just a parking lot now. So MUCH of our country, it seems - don't know about yours - is acquiescing to concrete's ongoing rampage to devastate our natural habitat.)

Have your ideas or dreams about your 'perfect place to live' changed these past 20-30 years or so, Steven? Mine haven't, which I find kind of interesting becuz so much else in re my ideas/dreams seems to have changed.

Do you ever 'dabble' around with floor plans and whatnot? I do not. (Am pretty sure my artistic 'skills' are far beneath yours.) Perhaps you might want to consider cultivating an architect as a friend? Or perhaps not. Sometimes, I think, it's more fun to just dream about or imagine 'what might be'.

steven said...

hey goldenrod, looks like you found your keyboard again!!! well yeah it's hugely funny to look at and i get that. i think i like the idea of unique spaces piled higgledy piggledy one-on-top-of-the-other because (as you so intuitively connect) i love the whole swiss family robinson tree house idea. i always have. it has magic about it and i think a home should always feel somewhat or entirely magical! my ideas about a perfect place to live have definitel changed over the last thirty years. at this time i would love a really simple a-frame by a river or small lake. solar-powered, with internet access and a studio to create whatever - music, art, beer - whatever!!!

you mention artistic skills - i have very few - but i do have the inclination!!!