“In this room (…), Mrs Moreau decided to install her kitchen. The decorator Henry Fleury conceived an avant-garde design for her and began to proclaim that it would be the prototype of the twenty-first century kitchen: a culinary laboratory one generation ahead of its time, provided with the most sophisticated technical improvements, equipped with microwave ovens, invisible hotplates, remote-controlled household robots capable of carrying out complex programmes of preparation and cooking. (…)
Mrs Moreau’s cook, a stout woman from Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy, answering to the name of Gertrude, was not fooled by those vulgar contrivances and told the lady of the house without further ado that she would not cook anything in such a kitchen, in which nothing was in the right place and nothing worked in the way she was familiar with. She demanded a real cooker with gas burners, a cast iron fryer, a wooden block and especially a junk room where she could put empty bottles, the cheese baskets, boxes of fruit, sacks of potatoes, bowls for washing vegetables and the wire basket for draining the salad.”
The difficulty architecture has in understanding life.
The two paragraphs quoted above are taken from the book by Georges Perec, La vie mode d’emploi1, in which the emotions, feelings and experiences of the inhabitants of a block of apartments in XVII district in Paris up to 1975, are crammed together in interminable and seemingly unrelated descriptions.
The text is a veritable experiment to recreate the life which goes on within this building in all its complexity. Perec describes his novel as a view from the street of everything that happens in a building from which the facade has been removed and in which all the rooms were visible at the same time.
It is the same sensation that we have when we regard a multi-storey doll’s house with the front facade off. What we see is the cross-section of the building, laid open for all the world to see. In view of the bizarre nature of this image, we could dream about possible or impossible relationships, imagine the sequence of events that occur throughout a day and with a child’s lack of concern, acting out the different roles and characters.
Although it might seem astonishing, the children’s market operates in the same way as an adult’s.
What happened to a modern doll’s house, designed and built by a doctor, Christopher Cole in the sixties, is curious. This doctor began to build doll’s houses because of his great interest in architecture.
Later on, when he retired, it became a full-time hobby. His modern doll’s house was very special, however, as it developed the concept of flexibility associated with modern architectural design. In other words, flexibility based on technique, on mobile and modifiable gadgets.
“The floors are removable an the interior walls are nailed down. Its design allows children to size the rooms as they please, on a specific basic structure”.2
However, children, like many of the people who commission work from architects, are more conventional in their taste than Doctor Cole, as they prefer doll’s houses with a more traditional appearance.
For this reason, Christopher Cole changed his plans and stopped making that particular model of house. Very few examples of this special toy remain.
Learning the notion of domesticity, is a slow process, but there is no doubt that everyone, either intuitively or innately, forms his/her own definition of what a home is. It is a primitive idea of a shelter, a safe refuge and of feeling at ease with space. On the other hand, identification with the modern nature of architecture assumes the existence of a cultural process, which requires effort, which has to be acquired and which, very often is found diagonally opposed to what is usually understood to be a cosy home. From the moment cultural conventions become involved, spontaneity is lost and architecture becomes divorced from the naturalness of life.
Javier Mozas, arquitecto, a+t research group
Vitoria-Gasteiz, march 2016
2 Christopher Cole: Modern doll house. The Ultimate Doll’s House Book. Dorling Kindersley Limited, Londres, 1994. For the Spanish version: El libro de las casas de muñecas. Editorial Raíces, Tolosa, Guipúzcoa, 1995.
Complete article in a+t 13 Vivienda y Flexibilidad II.
Aurora Fernández Per es periodista y Javier Mozas es arquitecto y urbanista. Ambos son fundadores de a + t architecture publishers, 1992, y editores de la revista de arquitectura a + t desde 1992 hasta la actualidad, así como fundadores en 2011 del grupo de investigación a + t – cuyo objetivo es promover la ciudad compacta a través de la investigación y el análisis-. Son además autores y editores de numerosas publicaciones, incluida la serie ‘Densidad sobre vivienda colectiva’.