The historical horizon that we have had to inhabit makes all Western citizens of today belong without exception to the established society of consumption and excess. A syndrome that advanced and denounced from its beginnings, in the middle of the XX century, different thinkers and sociologists. Since then, capitalism has flooded our lives with superfluous behavior and unnecessary objects. From the 60’s the architectural programs were transformed little by little to obtain additional areas of storage and the project of the domestic habitation began to deal with this new demand with urgency.
Accumulation, as an important problem of a material and ecological nature, was also detected as a central issue for architecture by the architects of the second generation of modernity; specifically by some of the components of Team X. So very early on, in 1958, this issue of material world inflation was addressed in the critical article “The future of furniture” by Alison Smithson that would eventually be formalized, although much later in 1993, in the theoretical approach for the house “Everything in your Site” that today we could understand as a proposal to denounce the conflicts generated by this new society.
One of the main values that the project of the house “Everything in its place” raises, is the reflection by a program whose first objective is the order and storage of the accessory. It is not a proposal-research around the inhabitant and its relationship with the surrounding space or geographic location but with its time, the time of unnecessary accumulation to the domestic interior. What the Smithsons seek is to order the life of the house and its inhabitants through the “keeping” of things.
Save the useless, as a new objective, while prior to the consumer society there was nothing to keep out of sight, everything that was, little or nothing, was – by necessity – by hand for direct use. Let us remember the spontaneity and austerity of the vernacular furniture and the shortage of the trousseaux that accompanied the life of the citizens, as well as the crisis that supposed the rupture of some of them, a pitcher, a plate, a chair…
What is finally proposed is a denunciation house, a recognition of the artificiality of the surplus, a critical response to the inflation of the possessed.
On the contrary, an example that addressed the problem of accumulation from a non-theoretical perspective but real, and essential for this text, is the proposal executed by Aldo van Eyck in the expansion of the Visser house in 1967-68, for a growing collector of art, on a previous project by Gerrit Rietveld. Against the abstract approach of the House everything in its place, the extension of the Visser house demonstrates how on a real object, the problem of the accumulation can be solved – in contrast to the strategy of keeping away from sight, in a closed box around which the rest of the program gravitates – through a free and open nucleus where to place the accumulated and from where to reformulate the original domestic space.
The expansion of the Visser house seems to contradict the logic of the Smithsons, since the need for a place to store, this time, must be placed “in view” exhibiting a collection of art, to be addressed and discussed daily . This way of opening what is saved for observation gives a sense of usefulness to the accumulation, which is contrary to the strategy of the large chest of the House everything in its place. Basically what distinguishes these two exercises – beyond the meeting between a theoretical approach and a real work – is the different use of what we accumulate as a pretext and engine of a project and, like that thin line between closed accumulation or open, gives a sense or another to the life of the inhabitant and architecture.
Thus, in the case of the Smithsons, the center of the house would be a closed core, the large closet, which is crossed by the central aisle, a kind of false thistle and domestic decumano, which also displaces the usual situation of traditional distributing elements of a house, such as stairs or fire, from the center to the periphery of the plant. On the contrary, the enlargement, to contain more things-more art-of the house Visser, brings to the center of the house a new place and centrality that nevertheless runs through a growth-container that is outside. This new center is generated by the decentered bubble that Aldo van Eyck draws as a space reserved for accumulation, which, however, unlike the house in its entirety, is habitable and open, the true agora and pretext for the new domestic life of the house already renovated.
The tension that the pre-existence of Rietveld’s project must face before enlargement also tells us how existing constructions, also modern and contemporary ones, have to face new demands based on excess over time. the growth and addition of a new body is possible without detriment to the original piece. So in this work, what results from the implementation is not a previous building plus an extension, but a new organism, compact, coherent and with its own identity -separate of the past and the future- in which a new architectural tension has been generated and vital.
Although we began by placing ourselves at the beginning of the consumer society, as an adequate pretext to the examples referred to, history shows us that the problem of oversizing the original use of a building is not strictly a modern or contemporary issue, but one of the most frequent themes of architecture. The proposal of new and growing demands on old buildings, are an expression of the authentic and fundamental matter of architecture, the passage of time, which is usually formalized not only through the natural aging and final ruin (perhaps not a fate as bad as they have made us believe), but also, as in the Visser house, by adding programs to the original figures and constructions that are still able to offer support, and serve as an infrastructure for a new activity.
Matrix architectures that incorporate superpositions, additions and interlacing that respond positively to new demands. Thus the constructions throughout the history were kept alive without losing identity if, as Rafael Moneo says, those principles were sufficiently solid to be able to absorb transformations, changes, distortions, etc. without it (the original building) ceasing to be fundamentally what it was, respecting, in a word, what its origins were.
We end up thinking that the dialectic found between both projects is, although remote, complementary and productive, because each of them helps to subvert and understand the doubts and certainties of the other. This joint reading strengthens the approach that architecture must always observe the unpredictable growth and modification of actions in the long life of a building, so that this uncertain future is always capable of being absorbed by the adaptation of the original program or its extension, while as a society we do not learn to dispense with the useless and to recover what is really useful, even the accumulation of art.
Luis Gil Pitao, architect
Santiago de Compostela, november 2016
Notes culled from the classroom “From imperfect past to imperfect future” given by Luis Gil in the Doctorate of Rehabilitation course of the Faculty of architecture of Guimarães 2016-17 for the University publication T + U (Telling + Unbuilts). Edt Luis Estéves.
Arquitecto por la ETSA de A Coruña en 1997, desde ese año colabora en el estudio de Manuel Gallego Jorreto hasta 1999. Becado de investigación en Holanda en 2000-1, con un estudio sobre lo fronterizo y liminar en arquitectura, por la Diputación de A Coruña, fue posteriormente Profesor invitado en el área de proyectos de la Facultad de Arquitectura de Guimaráes, Universidade do Minho, del 2001 hasta el 2007. Desde el inicio de su carrera ha publicado asíduamente artículos y ha participado como editor en diferentes publicaciones alrededor de la arquitectura.