Thursday, May 08, 2008

Koolhaas Houselife

The movie Koolhaas Houselife was showing at the The Storefront for Art & Architecture on a continuous loop. Houselife is a study of Rem Koolhaas's Maison à Bordeaux (see photos of the house here).

The movie follows the Bordeaux House's housekeeper around as she cleans the whimsical and bizarre features of the house. She vacuums a narrow metal spiral staircase she can barely fit the vacuum on, she complains about the modular, removable storage in the kitchen (drawers would be better, she says), she points out how the house doesn't have faucets that mix hot and cold water. There are brief segments on the variety of other workers who are responsible for keeping the house in shape: the gardener complains that the way the lawn is placed, it will inevitably get burned by reflected sunlight from a large metal door; the "house doctor" explains the operation of a glowing bollard, the "joystick", that you pull on when you want to open the front door; in the best scene of the movie, a whole crew of bureaucratic French handymen try to determine where leaks are coming from by turning on a hose, producing a massive waterfall that cascades down the living room wall and onto the TV. They then argue about what to do about the leak, and conclude that it's the responsibility of some other crew.

At one point, the TV is showing a scene from Tati's Mon Oncle featuring the absurd modern house with the metal fish fountain. There was some argument after the movie whether it, like Mon Oncle, is poking fun at modernism. The perspective on the house from those who have to maintain it is discouraging, and might suggest a criticism of modernism. But I doubt the problems of maintaining a house, especially a house as large as the Maison à Bordeaux, are uniquely modernist. Though it seems modernist architects should develop a way to keep those gigantic windows clean.

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