A UN Studio installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, "Holiday Home" was a meditation on vacation
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Commissioned to design a vacation house, UN Studio principals Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos weren't about to fuss over wood-burning fireplaces, wraparound porches, or infinity pools. For one thing, the husband-wife team are known for vanguard work that places concept over convention. What's more, this particular "house" would be installed in a gallery at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art as an exhibition called "Holiday Home."
"What exactly is a holiday home?" art-historian Bos remembers asking. "We tested how you could play with that notion." Play they did. Preconceptions of log cabins, gingerbread cottages, or Tuscan villas were thrown to the winds. Instead, UN Studio stripped the housing type to its abstract fundamentals: a liberation from workaday routines and a room with a view. To derive the form of the futuristic faceted pavilion, the couple took an archetypal house shape, extended its walls and gabled roof in six directions, then twisted those volumes. The result—built from computer-generated models over the course of a week—was a lacquered-MDF installation shaped like a cluster of crystals that was white on the outside and a glowing bubble-gum pink within. Four of the hollow prisms pointed out, while two aimed up. Three served as entrances. All six terminated in an opening that framed a different view. "Sometimes you saw only legs passing by," architect Van Berkel says. "Other times it was only a head."
Exploring the various ins and outs, visitors enjoyed a new perspective, both literally and figuratively, on the ' dichotomy between interior and exterior, fantasy and the everyday. "Your primary home needs to be efficiently organized," Bos says. "In a vacation home, scale can be almost nonexistent, and everything can be looser. At the ICA, oblique geometries transformed once you were inside them." Indeed, the structure's internal geometry exploded into a commotion of angled planes and fractured surfaces.
Space-shifting devices have appeared, to spectacular effect, in real-world UN Studio projects such as a Dutch house based on a Möbius strip and the Mercedes-Benz Museum, a spiraling trefoil contortion in Stuttgart, Germany. At the firm's La Defense office complex in Almere, the Netherlands, the buildings' iridescent glass facade shifts in color. The lacquered pink interior of "Holiday Home" produces a similar effect. In fact, the pink was specifically chosen for its ability to change. "It can look fairly reddish," Van Berkel says. "Near the light, though, it almost disappears into white." Just as dizzying was a contribution from design agency Imaginary Forces: Video cameras recorded visitors as they entered and cast their abstracted shadows on the walls.
"Holiday Home" was a theoretical exercise, a meditation that took an idea to its extremes. But often reality is more telling, as Van Berkel himself acknowledges when asked about the real-life getaway that he and Bos share with their daughter. "It's a 19th-century farmhouse in the Canary Islands," he says. "And it's completely undesigned."