Indepth Arts News: |
"The Un-Private House"
1999-07-02 until 1999-10-05
Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY,
USA United States of America
More than simply a retreat from the world, the private home is a world within itself--a
literal and symbolic expression of cultural and architectural values and ideals.
Beginning July 1, The Museum of Modern Art presents The Un-Private House, an exhibition
of 26 contemporary homes by a diverse group of international architects. The selections
reflect the recent transformation of the private house in response to evolving
architectural theory and changing ways of living. Among the cultural conditions
examined are emerging demographic patterns, shifting definitions of privacy in light of
new media in the home, and changing concepts of work and leisure. The exhibition is
organized by Terence Riley, Chief Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, and
remains on view through October 5, 1999.
The Un-Private House is the first of five projects in The Lily Auchincloss Series of
Architecture Exhibitions, named in honor of the Museums longtime trustee and patron of
its Department of Architecture and Design, who died last year. The series of biennial
exhibitions will explore major issues in contemporary architecture.
Since the inception of the private house more than 400 years ago, the social conditions
and structures that drove its development--privacy, the separation of living space and
work space, traditional family life, and notions of domesticity--have all changed
In response, a new generation of house designers is addressing not only critical
architectural issues, but also the cultural parameters of the private home. The
private house has been a laboratory for architectural invention throughout the
twentieth century, says Mr. Riley. As a preview of architecture in the next century,
these houses can be viewed as signs of things to come.
All 26 homes featured in the exhibition have been designed since 1988. Sixteen of the
houses are already built, four are in stages of planning or construction, and six
remain unbuilt. The completed homes are located in the United States, Japan, South
America, and Europe. Designs range from New York-style lofts to row houses and detached
The Un-Private House galleries are designed to evoke domestic spaces. Rather than the
more familiar pedestals, twenty-six architectural models, representing twenty-four of
the projects in the exhibition, rest on spare wooden tables, chairs, beds, and other
domestic objects designed by David Schaefer, Bill Katz, and AndrŽe Putman of Furniture
Co. Schaefer also designed the chairs that furnish a reading area in the center of the
gallery, where visitors may examine books on the architects. Hundreds of photographs
and drawings of the featured homes are printed in large scale directly on custom-made
wallpaper hung throughout the galleries. Two video presentations in the galleries allow
visitors to imagine the homes as three-dimensional structures.
The interactive environment of the exhibition is a collaboration between MoMA and the
MIT Media Lab. Visitors enter the exhibition space by crossing a welcome mat,
projected in light directly on the gallery floor, that responds electronically to the
visitors presence. An interactive table in the center of the galleries takes visitors
on a virtual tour of all 26 projects. Though at first sight the table appears to be
bare, technology embedded in its surface may be activated by touch, prompting photos
and text to be projected directly onto the tabletop. Visitors may browse through a
series of diagrams and floor plans, as well as photographs of the homes, architects,
and clients, simply by touching the illuminated areas on the tables surface. (See
separate release for more information.)
The Influence of New Technology
The rapid growth of new media has dramatically altered concepts of privacy within the
home. Todays home is a permeable structure--receiving and transmitting images, sound,
text, and data--that allows us to be physically alone while still connected to the
outside world. As a result, we are witnessing redefinitions of the meaning and
significance of privacy, permanence, and the boundaries between the virtual and the
Herzog and de Meurons Kramlich House and Media Collection, to be completed in 2000, is
designed for a California couple as a home and as a place to display their extensive
collection of electronic art. In the windowless underground level of the house, walls
act as screens for the projection of the owners collection of video art, creating a
unique gallery space. In the main living spaces on the floor above, the curving
partitions that define the rooms are also screens, giving the appearance that the
fictional and the real flow into one another.
Both the interior and exterior surfaces of Hariri & Hariris conceptual Digital House
(1998) are devised as smart glass skins, composed of liquid crystal display (LCD)
blocks, that perform various functions to assist or enhance daily living. Images and
information providing advice on food preparation appear over the kitchen counter, while
digital guests appear in the living room for a virtual visit. Bedrooms are equipped
with recording devices that allow sleepers to record and replay their dreams. More than
just an environment characterized by the discreet pervasive presence of computers, the
Digital Houses surfaces and devices are interactive in themselves.
The Changing Family
The radical transformation of the family since World War II--rising numbers of couples
without children, same-sex couples, people living alone, and families with children
from previous marriages--has resulted in new domestic requirements that differ from
those of the conventional nuclear family. Joel Sanderss unbuilt House for a Bachelor
(1999) broadly addresses the many issues that face men and women who choose to live
alone or in relationships that are not defined by marriage and child-rearing. An
extensive renovation of an existing 1950s house in Minneapolis, Sanderss design
reinterprets the American suburban single-family residence for a single professional
man. Rather than dedicating contained rooms to specific functions, Sanders removes
interior walls to create a spacious area that incorporates kitchen, living, and dining
spaces. The master bedroom suite features a similar open flow of spaces between the
bedroom, dressing room, and bathing area. A subterranean backyard, out of the
neighbors sight, leads directly into the master bath, and the continuous outdoor space
can be used as a private gym or patio.
Another new domestic type is the family composed of parents with children from previous
marriages. Homa and Sima Farjadis BV House (1999), designed for such a family, is
conceived in three distinct components: the parents spaces, which include a bedroom
suite as well as offices; the childrens spaces; and the shared social spaces. The
homes design combines ideas of intimacy and separation: an indoor lily pond lies
between the parents suite and the social spaces, and the childrens house is
freestanding but connected to the main house by a covered walkway. In this way, the
elements that separate also connect, affording parents and children a sense of autonomy
and privacy within their newly constructed family.
Some families seek a more personalized architecture in response to specific situations.
Rem Koolhaas of OMA designed the Maison ˆ Bordeaux (1998) for a man who uses a
wheelchair, and his family. The three-story home is flexible--all the major
architectural elements can be manipulated for convenience, comfort, and variety. The
entire 25-foot-long glass facade on the main living level can be moved to create an
open-air room, allowing the client to be outside without leaving his home. In addition,
sliding screens fitted into ceiling tracks can be shifted to control the quality of
light. Artwork may be displayed on these screens to change the appearance of the space.
Perhaps the most innovative feature of the house is a
10-foot-square elevator platform, open on all sides, that moves freely through an open
space in the center of each floor. This arrangement gives mobility to the owner, and as
the elevator platform travels between floors it temporarily transforms the architecture
of the house.
The Home Office Redefined
Technological advancements have effected a new relationship between home and work.
Rather than serving as an escape from work, todays home often merges work space with
living space, as exemplified by Frank Lupo and Daniel Rowens Lipschutz/Jones Apartment
(1988) in Manhattan. With the globalization of business, the owners, both traders on
Wall Street, no longer have fixed work hours. Digital screens visible throughout their
loft display financial information for international currency markets. An additional
seven screens situated throughout the home provide the inhabitants with the option of
round-the-clock instant access to changing markets.
When completed, Winka Dubbeldams Millbrook Residence (1997) will house a couple whose
various work and living activities--like the interior and exterior of the house--are
woven together, in the architects words, like strands of a Celtic knot. The two
owners will work on different levels of the house. He, a graphic designer, will work in
the ground-floor media room, while she will work on fashion-industry projects in a
studio on the upper level. Though they
work separately in their daily routines, the layout ensures that their paths
Also designed for a professional couple who work from home, the Mšbius House (1998), by
Ben van Berkel is based on the seamless Mšbius strip. The more public spaces lead to
the offices and private spaces, which in turn give way to the public spaces, and so on.
This architectural loop produces a continuity and integration of living and working
areas. The concrete and glass exterior of the house, too, seems to fold back on itself:
from one perspective the glass is a skin slipped over a concrete house; from another,
the building is a glass house framed by concrete.
Convertible Living Space
As the homes identity expands to encompass multiple functions--work, leisure,
entertaining, family gatherings, private time--so does its architecture become more
fluid and versatile. Several of the projects address the need for a flexible,
convertible living space that can be reconfigured to serve different functions.
For example, the Ost/Kuttner Apartment (1997) was designed by Sulan Kolatan and William
Mac Donald to function as a pied-ˆ-terre for a Manhattan couple and, occasionally, as a
corporate apartment. To serve both purposes, the architects formed three sleeping areas
with varying degrees of privacy. When arranged vertically, a series of panels serves to
divide the primary space in half; when arranged horizontally, the panels may be
transformed into a grand dinner table for entertaining.
Similarly, the Holley Loft (1995), a 3800-square-foot residence for a single man in
Manhattan, designed by Thomas Hanrahan and Victoria Meyers, is bisected by a
48-foot-long steel-and-glass wall. This wall, which runs the length of the apartment,
separates the private spaces (bedroom and bathroom) from the public spaces (living,
dining, and entertaining areas). The glass partition, clear in some areas and
sandblasted in others, does not so much divide these areas as define them within a
fluid and continuous space. Ceiling-height panels of solid wood balance the visual
lightness of the glass and provide the houses owner with the flexibility to adapt to
changing circumstances, such as visitors or overnight guests. When the panels are open,
the loft has the illusion of endless depth. When the panels are closed, they demarcate
one room; when closed further, the panels clearly define two rooms.
Situated in a heavily populated area of Tokyo, Shigeru Bans Curtain Wall House (1995)
fulfills the clients wish for a house that is not merely constructed from contemporary
materials, but one that explicitly embodies what the architect describes as the Ôopen
and free attitude of contemporary living. As in a traditional Japanese home, the
privacy and character of the houses interior spaces can be altered by lightweight
partitions. In this case, a dramatic fabric curtain spans the second and third floors
of the house, taking the place of solid exterior walls. This curtain can be opened and
closed to manipulate the view and interior light, and the effects of sunlight, wind, or
rain. When opened, it exposes the interior of the second- and third-floor living
spaces, while wraparound terraces further extend the home into the surrounding city.
Mr. Riley writes, The cultural definition of the private house is undergoing a great
change, a transformation that, in itself, can generate significant architectural
invention. This change is taking place at a time when architecture is being fueled by
enormous new technical and material resources. The private houses discussed here, and
the architects who designed them, can thus be seen as not only reconfiguring the
domestic landscape but laying the groundwork for the first architectural debates of the
The exhibition is made possible by The Lily Auchincloss Fund for Contemporary
Architecture, and is the first in a series of five exhibitions to be supported by this
program. The interactive environment of the exhibition was jointly developed by the MIT
Media Lab and The Museum of Modern Art and generously supported by Max Palevsky.
Generous support for the installation design is provided by Furniture Co. The
accompanying publication is made possible by Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown. The
symposium is made possible by Philips Electronics. Additional funding was provided by
an anonymous donor, NEC Technologies, the Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation, The
Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, and Nearlife, Inc.