New York

Ben Nicholson/Reiser + Umemoto

National Institute for Architectural Education

The dissonances signaled by the current architectural buzzword, “domesticity” and “interiority” have influenced both abstruse theory and practical work. These tensions—between the public and private, the individual psyche and the interior environment, the home and the contaminating influence of information and media technology—animate this adventurous exhibition. In two proposals for the single-family house—the architectural laboratory where normative typology meets idiosyncratic lives—architecture provides a bulwark against the instabilities of contemporary life. These projects explore the iconic power of the house at the moment when its future is uncertain.

Ben Nicholson’s proposal “Appliance House,” 1986–90, is introduced by two small collages entitled Sectional Name Collage, 1986, and Initial Configuration of Appliance House, 1987. These small pieces, which pay tribute to both Surrealism and Pop, present the problematics of a domestic environment, atomized into a series of disparate parts and continuous operations. Doorways, windows, machine parts, articles of clothing, and cultural iconography are assembled in an oddly precise though densely claustrophobic manner. Indeed, the artifactual viscera that clutter the environment virtually preclude the possibility of habitation.

The plan of the “Appliance House” is a bilateral progression of paired chambers divided by a spinelike corridor. Plans, section drawings, and collages of one area, called the Kleptoman Cell, depict a place full of obsessively acquired objects. The serial drawings show some of the many possible configurations the gadgets can be arranged in. Nicholson’s project is the hyperfunctional habitat of a collector of domestic conveniences, and the assisting appliances form an endlessly adjustable, improvisational theater of household operations. “Appliance House” is hermetic and inbred; it protects its inhabitants from outside disturbances while it condemns them to the unforgiving pressures and increasing residuals of their own desires.

Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s proposal for a site in Wiesbaden, entitled “Aktion Poliphile: Hypnerotomachia Eros/Machina/Hypnia House,” 1989–90, is far more susceptible to the political, historical, and social determinations of site. Here, too, the operations of the house are intensified; it is a machine for living constructed with the materials and technologies of warfare. Strife is evident in the plan of the house—a sprawling assemblage of menacing, awkwardly connected chunks of space—and strange adjacencies confound conventions of privacy within this embattled domestic zone. The elegant mechanical drawings identify the major rooms and functions as well as small pieces and parts (plates, cables, ventral gondola, etc.) that activate its interior events. In one room, a storage cabinet of domestic curiosities takes the form of an impenetrable, partitioned bunker or munitions factory. Reiser and Umemoto have inscribed the floor of this space with a “(Nocturnal) Floor Text,” in which passages wander and tenuously coincide like the shiny slime trails that slugs deposit.

These bizarre domestic visions undermine the mythic house as a retreat from the modern world. Whether the architect has invented a house invasive to its occupants or one that is invaded by urban culture, habitation is a political event. Through collage, assemblage, and montage, these architects subvert the comforting neutralities of domesticity.

Patricia C. Phillips