Anna Puigjaner, co-founder of Barcelona-based practice MAIO, argues that the house has become a transmutable endless landscape defined by objects and technology
In his introduction to The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Reyner Banham highlights to what extent architectural history had almost entirely excluded some crucial aspects (such as mechanical services) from historiographical discussion, at least up until the date the book was written. But beyond structures and mechanical services, a third layer could be added to this form of historiographical oblivion: interiors.
It is difficult to ignore the extent to which most of the canonical 20th-century architecture books have not dealt in depth with interiors and their objects. Conservation has often focused on architecture as a permanent built form, neglecting the world of the objects that define the inner space of the built environment. So interiors and their objects remain as the most fragile part of architecture, excluded from it while gaining their own autonomy through this exclusion.
Paradoxically, in a technological and networked reality, the programme of a domestic space is defined by the content of this space rather than its shell. Any room can become a bedroom once you place a bed in it, any room can become a kitchen when you install a cooking device, etc. We cannot deny that architecture goes beyond its permanent and built environment. It has to be understood as a set of spatial relations between the pre-existing built environment and the movable objects that determine it.
The ability to qualify space through objects, this increasing mix of interiors and exteriors, public and private spheres, allows us to think of the world as a continuous interior, an infinite number of interconnected interiors, following Sloterdijk’s definition in In the World Interior of Capital (2005) as a ‘grand interior’ – an endless domestic landscape defined by objects and technology. Different explorations of this idea, such as the Whole Earth Catalog (1968), Archizoom’s No-Stop City (1969) or Emilio Ambasz’s Italy: The New Domestic Landscapes (1972) at MoMA, can now be seen not only as pioneering predecessors to real conditions, but also as projects that stress the importance of objects and technologies as anchors amid this endless continuity, in a state of dangerous and increasingly fearsome fragility and impermanence.
‘This increasing mix of interiors and exteriors allows us to think of the world as a continuous interior – an endless domestic landscape defined by objects and technology’
The house is no longer just an unchanging space for our belongings, but a transient and networked space that can be expanded and decreased according to our needs through the use of apps and similar commodities. Not that long ago, a family would still gather around the TV as they did around the fireplace in decades past. Nowadays, a new social reality is engaging with the atomisation of devices and the increasing demand on services. The TV losing its central place has modified our behaviour and the way we use our houses and rooms. Now, uses are superimposed, and the ways we use space become increasingly fragile and ephemeral. The current technological landscape allows us to permanently transform our domestic space, understanding the city as a set of spaces on demand that allow us to reshape the limits of the house constantly. The whole city becomes part of our domestic realm, redefining and blurring the borders of the house according to our acts and daily habits.
During the first part of the 20th century, modern architects used documents like the Charte d’Athènes (1933), by Le Corbusier, to envision a division of the city by functions, clearly splitting living areas from leisure and production. During the next decades, these ideas were widely questioned by other architects, Jane Jacobs and Rem Koolhaas among them. Today, we see that such a division presented many issues and is almost impossible. In our cities, uses and functions merge more and more, both in the urban and domestic sphere. Houses and workplaces become increasingly closer to one another. The number of people working from home is rising along with the number of citizens who use their homes as productive spaces. Some examples include people selling food cooked by themselves from their home via platforms like OLIO and The Extra Dish, and apps for the short-term renting of home spaces, turning your living room into a gig venue with Sofar Sounds or your kitchen into a restaurant with Kitchen2Rent. Current digital sharing economy platforms allow people not only to work from home, but also to market their houses and domestic services online with ease, turning the house, once more, into a space of productive labour that extends beyond housework. Leisure and labour have dangerously merged on a non-stop 24/7 basis.
These new habits allow us to imagine a house defined by generic and urban spaces that are able to host different family structures and needs, where the use of any room is not predetermined and can change. If the Modern Movement designed each domestic space for a specific function, and a specific family type, today we have a need for neutral and reprogrammable networked spaces that are able to engage with a large number of social realities. The house has become part of a wider system, a system that has transformed the domestic into a generic, diffuse and continuously expanding ground.
Part of this text was written for the exhibition Invisible Landscapes, shown at the Royal Academy of London. MAIO’s Act I: Home is on show until 24 September 2018
This piece is featured in the AR’s July/August 2018 on AR House + Furniture – click here to pick up your copy today