After Saarinen’s fingerprints | Michael Ángel Díaz Camacho

Mon Oncle (1958). Director: Jacques Tati

Eero Saarinen dedicated a very small part of his career to the topic of the housing, in fact, only he constructed two. In words of one of the most important experts of his work, Antonio Roman Asensio: “the design of the one-family house simply was not fitting with the exercise of the profession as it Saarinen understood”1. In spite of this apparent disinterest for the topic, this American architect of Finnish origin realized one of the most surprising declarations that are known on the house, when nothing affirmed – more and at all less – that the house is NOT an architecture:

“The house isn’t really architecture. I think it’s been too much overblown and much too important. Let’s sort of relate this to other things. Now we know that the family is not as strong as [it] used to be. It’s not as strong as an educational element. The education that children got through the family was much greater in earlier days than [it] is today. Yet the house as a piece of architecture has become terribly important. It really wasn’t until the Victorian times…But lots of civilizations have lived with the house being an unimportant part, an anonymous part of architecture”2.

What can hide behind this surprising affirmation? Is NOT house an architecture?

Saarinen identifies the real value of the house in the set of relations between human beings who there are summoned, the synergies between these and the own landscape or the formative component that all experience of life supposes for the inhabitants. In this respect, to cultivate tomatoes, to cook with fire or to coexist with the grandparents, for example, are actions that could concentrate more architecture than a lounge to double height or several units of prop of steel or concrete. Opposite to the image of the house scene and the inhabitant actor who plays a role designed previously3, the idea is interested here of in living opened on the territory and the time, the house as geography on which the inhabitants practise as real authors of his commonness. “The importance of the architecture is not other one that that of the environment that it creates. And an environment is conformador of conducts”, Alejandro de la Sota was writing on having referred to the Pavilion of Barcelona  by Mies van de Rohe4. It is necessary to ask then if, as Heiddeger was saying, we would not have to define first a way of living to establish later how it should be constructed. Otherwise, one runs the risk of the deceit of the own experience habitacional, question fabulously reflected by Jacques Tati in Mon Oncle5, movie in which the Arpel “survive” in a comical ugly thing for the modern grace of his house – machine (certainly, the son of the Arpel adores the untid vitalism of his uncle).

The house is NOT an architecture. The phrase weighs as a slab, does not know one very well what to do with her. Possibly it is a question of a very own provocation of the context: the 50s and the congresses of the Team 10 suppose a deep review on the modern paradigm of living, a reaction to the poisoning of bourgeois villas opened by the International Style and his interpretation (only partial) of the dogmas of the Modern Movement6. Without intention of amending Saarinen, possibly be more reasonable to express:Architecture is not ALONE the house, leaving in white the page on which everyone must establish his relations and interests, open his concrete idea of what it means to live. In Oíza’s words:

If you put the weight in to live, all the instruments seem to you to be useful, but if the weight you put it in the own instrument, since it turns out that you cannot live because the instrument declines every day”7.

Miguel Ángel Díaz Camacho. Doctor Architect

Madrid. february 2014


1 Antonio Román Asensio, Eero Saarinen: an architecture of multiplicity, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.

2 Ibídem. Declaration recorded in an interview of 1958 realized by the architect John Peter.

3 The Belgian architect Henry they go of Velde (1863-1957) he was designing not only the furniture of his works, also the wardrobe, the chinas and up to the smallest complements that should compose the scene of to live.

4 Alejandro de la Sota, revista Arquitectura nº261, julio-agosto 1986.

5 Mon Oncle, Jacques Tati, París (1957).

6 The Congress CIAM 10, celebrated in Dubrovnik in 1956 he devoted himself to the Problems of the human habitat”, and came to state the definitive crisis of this (modern) institution as consequence of the radical answer to the teachers on the part of the youngest members (Bakema, Goes Eyck, Alyssum and Peter Smithson) grouped in the parallel organization Team 10”.

7 Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza, interviews with Vicente Patón and Pierluigi Cattermole, revista ON nº68 (1986).

Miguel Ángel Díaz Camacho

Doctor en Arquitectura, Decano de la Facultad de Tecnología y Ciencia UCJC. Presidente de la Asociación Sostenibilidad y Arquitectura,  perteneciente al Consejo Superior de los Colegios de Arquitectos de España. Director de MADC Arquitectos, estudio profesional con premios en concursos nacionales e internacionales, en la actualidad desarrolla proyectos en España y Noruega. Escritor y crítico de arquitectura, es autor de los libros “Párrafos de Arquitectura. Core(oh)grafías” (2016) y “Arquitectura y Cambio Climático” (2018).

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