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A Home is not a House

NK 24 50 Years

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2014 marked the 50th anniversary of one of those ubiquitous landmarks of the 60s visionary scene, Amazing Archigram 4: The Science Fiction Issue, which saw a truncated attempt at a big-scale celebration on my part. Again, 2015 marked another 5-decade anniversary: this time, it was the publication of Reyner Banham’s ‘A Home is Not A House’ in the April 1965 of Art in America. ‘A home is not a House’ is an inevitable go-to place for any fan ´(I’m including architectural scholars here) of the capsule, expendable, or ephemeral architecture movement of the 1960-70s and beyond -and a nice counterpart to Banham’s own Megastructure.

Also, the article featured those simple-yet-captivating illustration/collages by François Dallegret (I mistyped ‘Dallegreat’ and was on the verge of leaving the typo as it worked so well) which have become a visual sine-qua-non of the time. Dallegret’s pictures were as much responsible for the success of the article as Banham’s always witty, subtly (and not so subtly) ironic and sometimes inflammatory prose. Another installation in Dallegret’s works dealing with complex machines (the article also featured some items of his ‘Automobiles Astrologiques’ series) and intricate detail, the ‘Environment Bubble‘ displayed an immediate, on-your-face rawness that contributed to its lasting appeal. The naked Dallegret and Banham clones inside the bubble were just the icing on the polemical cake. It is a pity that the ‘Banhams’ were just paste-ups of the writer’s head on the artist’s body, although, according to Mary Banham, it was the right choice -aesthetically speaking.

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while has surely noticed I have a little more than a slight infatuation with Banham’s work and figure, in general, as well as for his collaboration with Dallegret -see ‘A Home Is Not A Mouse’ to ‘Full House vs. Full(er) House’, ‘Banham Style’, and several others published here and there. [‘There’ standing for architecture magazines not yet featured in the blog]. So, when I noticed an issue of Uncube entitled ‘Commune Revisited’ was in the works, I didn’t miss the occasion to fit in a little nod to Banham&Dallegret’s work before the year went by. [Another homage was included some months later in Arquine magazine, and it will show up here at some point, I guess]. I also contacted Mr. Dallegret at the time, and his response included some surrealistic talk about going to the supermarket and eating a banana. But I’m not going to comment on that.

For those interested in reading Dallegret’s actual thoughts, I’d strongly recommend revisiting this interview delivered on the occasion of the 2011 exhibition at the AA school of Architecture (curated by Thomas Weaver and Vanessa Norwood). ‘A Home is Not a House’ is all over the internet, and can be either checked online, or downloaded in pdf form. For those of you too lazy to click on links, you can find the full article below.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #34: Commune Revisited, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. I’d check it right now, if I were you. Honest.

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Banham, Reyner, Dallegret, François: ‘A Home is Not a House’. Art in America, April 1965.

 

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As some of you who have been around here for a while will remember, some time ago (years, actually) my beloved Peter Reyner Banham made his entry into this blog by means of a cartoon that sprang from a suggestion by Kazys Varnelis, who was doing his annual re-reading of  Banham’s ‘The Great Gizmo’ along with Alison and Peter Smithson’s ‘But today We Collect Ads’. That cartoon led to another (A home is not a Mouse), and then it became a series entitled “The Bubble Adventures of P. Reyner Banham”. But only in my mind. I sat down, took some notes, drew and colored the next cartoon in the series… and then my volatile attention flew somewhere else and I completely forgot it. 

Finally, it has been put to much better use as part of MAS Studio’s last issue of MAS Context: OWNERSHIP, where editor Iker Gil and his team were so kind as to feature it on the cover. All the contents of MAS Context: OWNERSHIP can be read online on their just-revamped website here, including an essay by Denise Scott Brown. Make sure to check it if looking for a compelling read.

Cover of Mas Context: Ownership (I actually lifted the image from a post by our friends from Spanish Magazine METALOCUS, who voiced the news in their blog)

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MAS Context, a quarterly journal created by MAS Studio, addresses issues that affect the urban context. Each issue delivers a comprehensive view of a single topic through the active participation of people from different fields and different perspectives who, together, instigate the debate. MAS Context is a not for profit organization based in Chicago, Illinois.  The concept of ownership, the exclusive rights and control over a property of any kind, has existed for centuries and in all cultures. Whether state, collective or personal, ownership is probably one of the most determining factors not only in defining our built environment but in the way we have shaped our society. But what if the way we live has changed? Can we redefine ownership to adapt it to the needs of the society? Can that redefinition provide new opportunities for our built environment? This issue will be dedicated to examining ownership in our current culture, ancient traditions, legal system and physical environment.

MAS Context: OWNERSHIP fatures contributions by Martin Adolfsson, William F. Baker, Kate Bingaman Burt, Eleanor Chapman, Santiago Cirugeda, Killian Doherty, Kirby Ferguson, Pedro Hernández, Jeanne Gang, Iker Gil, Network Architecture Lab, Quilian Riano, Denise Scott Brown, Richard F. Tomlinson II, XAM, and KLAUS.

MAS Contex is published by MAS Studio | Editor in Chief: Iker Gil | Editor: Paul Mougey | Contributing Editor: Andrew Clark | Art Director: Plural | Graphic Design/Layout: Iker Gil | Website: Plural

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“When your house contains such a complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi re-verberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters -when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up by itself without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up. When the cost of all this tackle is half of the total outlay (or more, as it often is) what is the house doing except concealing your mechanical pudenda from the stares of folks on the sidewalk? Once or twice recently there have been buildings where the public was genuinely confused about what was mechanical services, what was structure-many visitors to Philadelphia take quite a time to work out that the floors of Louis Kahn’s laboratory towers are not supported by the flanking brick duct boxes, and when they have worked it out, they are inclined to wonder if it was worth all the trouble of giving them an independent supporting structure. (…)

I was standing up to my chest-hair in water, making home movies (I get that NASA kick from taking expensive hardware into hostile environments) at the campus beach at Southern Illinois. This beach combines the outdoor and the clean in a highly American manner – scenically it is the ole swimmin’ hole of Huckleberry Finn tradition, but it is properly policed (by sophomore lifeguards sitting on Eames chairs on poles in the water) and it’s chlorinated too. From where I stood, I could see not only immensely elaborate family barbecues and picnics in progress on the sterilized sand, but also, through and above the trees, the basketry interlaces of one of Buckminster Fuller’s experimental domes. And it hit me then, that if dirty old Nature could be kept under the proper degree of control (sex left in, streptococci taken out) by other means, the United States would be happy to dispense with architecture and buildings altogether.

Bucky Fuller, of course, is very big on this proposition: his famous non-rhetorical question, “Madam, do you know what your house weighs?” articulates a subversive suspicion of the monumental. This suspicion is inarticulately shared by the untold thousands of americans who have already shed the deadweight of domestic architecture and live in mobile homes which, though they may never actually be moved, still deliver rather better performance as shelter than do ground-anchored structures costing at least three times as much and weighing ten times more. If someone could devise a package that would effectively disconnect the mobile home from the dangling wires of the town electricity supply, the bottled gas containers insecurely perched on a packing case and the semi-unspeakable sanitary arrangements that stem from not being connected to the main sewer – then we should really see some changes. It may not be so far away either; defense cutbacks may send aerospace spin-off spinning in some new directions quite soon, and that kind of miniaturizationtalent applied to a genuinely self-contained and regenerative standard-of-living package that could be towed behind a trailer home or clipped to it, could produce a sort of U-haul unit that might be picked up or dropped off at depots across the face of the nation. Avis might still become the first in U-Tility, even if they have to go on being a trying second in car hire.

The car, in short, is already doing quite a lot of the standard-ofliving package’s job-the smoochy couple dancing to the music of the radio in their parked convertible have created a ballroom in the wilderness (dance floor by courtesy of the Highway Dept. of course) and all this is paradisal till it starts to rain. Even then, you’re not licked – it takes very little air pressure to inflate a transparent Mylar airdome, the conditioned-air output of your mobile package might be able to do it, with or without a little boosting, and the dome itself, folded into a parachute pack, might be part of the package. From within your thirty-foot hemisphere of warm dry lebensraum you could have spectacular ringside views of the wind felling trees, snow swirling through the glade, the forest fire coming over the hill or Constance Chatterley running swiftly to you know whom through the downpour.
(…) But … surely this is not a home, you can’t bring up a family in a polythene bag? This can never replace the time-honored ranch-style tri-level standing proudly in a landscape of five defeated shrubs, flanked on one side by a ranch-style tri-level with six shrubs and on the other by a ranch-style tri-level with four small boys and a private dust bowl. If the countless Americans who are successfully raising nice children in trailers will excuse me for a moment, I have a few suggestions to make to the even more countless Americans who are so insecure that they have to hide inside fake monuments of Permastone and instant roofing. There are, admittedly, very sound day-to-day advantages to having warm broadloom on a firm floor underfoot, rather than pine needles and poison ivy. America’s pioneer house builders recognized this by commonly building their brick chimneys on a brick floor slab. A transparent airdome could be anchored to such a slab just as easily as could a balloon frame, and the standard-of-living-package could hover busily in a sort of glorified barbecue pit in the middle of the slab. But an airdome is not the sort of thing that the kids, or a distracted Pumpkin-eater could run in and out of when the fit took them-believe me, fighting your way out of an airdome can be worse than trying to get out of a collapsed rain-soaked tent if you make the wrong first move.

Reyner Banham: A Home is not a House (Art in America issue 2, April, 1965)

The Environment-Bubble

Transparent plastic bubble dome inflated by air-conditioning output. In the present state of the environmental art, no mechanical device can make the rain go back to Spain; the standard-of-living package is apt to need some sort of an umbrella for emergencies, and it could well be a plastic dome inflated by conditioned air blown out by the package itself. Illustration by Francois Dallegret.

Charles Jencks also had something to say about it in 1969.

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