PRINT January 2001


the Kaleidoscope House

Dolls and their houses have agendas. As any child lucky enough to be given a dollhouse can tell you, once the treasure is set on its playroom plot, her (or his) favorite dollies must fit comfortably through the door or face exile in a neglected kid’s room corner with the rest of the toyland homeless. Many children have learned, to their sorrow, that squeezing Barbie’s head through a narrow Colonial casement wrecks home and hairdo both.

Of course, this is the architect’s agenda as well: The inhabitant must fit the house. Peter Wheelwright, chair of the architecture department at New York’s Parsons School of Design, has joined with Laurie Simmons to drive this point home by fashioning the Kaleidoscope House. Produced by Bozart Toys, a firm specializing in artist-designed playthings, the plastic, 1:12 scale, neomodernist self-assembler has a white frame, a deep blue, arced-slab partial roof, and transparent sliding wall partitions in Pokemon hues similar to those used in see-through CD players. Some of these walls overlap, giving a modicum of domestic privacy (along with a somewhat muddy exercise in Albers’s color theory).

What mode of family is suited to such an open, rainbow life? Daddy is an action figure modeled after the architect; Mommy, who also moves, is modeled after Simmons—and dons her best Donna Karan duds. (Two Gap-ish kids are around somewhere.) Furnishing any house is a job best shared by both parents, and they have already decided on a glass-topped dining-table set by Dakota Jackson; a living-room sofa by Karim Rashid; a cool, curvy chair by Ron Arad; and a coffee table by Keiser-Newman. Best of all, the whole family can decorate the living areas with paintings by Peter Halley and Carroll Dunham, photos by Simmons and Cindy Sherman, or wood sculpture by Mel Kendrick. It remains to be seen which genre will predominate.

Prices? Living-room suite, dining room, and bedroom are around $20 each. “Future plans include sets of important modern furniture designs grouped according to their historic period in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum,” reads the handout at Deitch Projects (where the Kaleidoscope House and proposed Pool Pavilion were on display). The art is a steal at $15. The house itself goes for $200. “Adults are ordering it for themselves,” a staffer at the AIA store in Philadelphia admitted. Quelle surprise.

Jeff Weinstein is fine arts editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.