7 January 2011
A house is not a shelter. It does not offer protection from the chaotic world around us because we are part of that chaos. This untraditional view of a dwelling, can be said, is what Lebbeus Woods introduces through his project on the Solo House. Being a house filled with theory, this essay will highlight and discuss the values that influenced the design of the Solo House, the experience of the house in a virtual and existential sense and the impact it has had or intends to have on design thinking and living. It will also critically analyse these areas against further theories and experiments in the field.
Lebbeus Woods’ work could be considered an architectural representation and interpretation of Gilles Deleuze (1969) and Félix Guattari’s (1980) theories on “Bodies without Organs”. They, like Woods, believe in the virtual potentials drawn out from experimentation and the theory of the earth being “permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles”. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980)
The Solo House is one of these particles. It is the atom that makes up the “‘molecules’ and ‘compound substances,’” of Woods’ cities and projects. (Woods, 2008) Built of steel and wood, it contains an open space that challenges the traditional lifestyle. He calls this space Freespace (Fig. 1, Fig. 2). The function of Freespace is ambiguity and the potential for inhabitation; the house first becomes useful once it is inhabited by people. (Woods, 2000, 2008) There is only one function that is dictated in the illustrations and formulated in the narrative piece of the project: the top floor is described to be an observatory. (Fig. 3) Isolated in no-man’s-land, the sole inhabitant of this house observes the world and observes themselves to realise they are one and the same. (Woods, 1989) Therefore the existentialist philosophy in this work manifests itself in two ways: The first is through the building, which first exists and then finds a function. The second is through the inhabitant, described in the narrative, who uses the distance of the house from the world to observe and find meaning in his own existence.
There is something very American about Woods’ foundations on Freespace: he describes choice as a fundamental requisite for freedom and idealises it without questioning it. (Woods, 1993) In fact, his definition of freedom could easily be a definition of his architecture: “a state emptied of pre-conceived value, use, function, meaning; an extreme state of loss within which choice is unavoidable; a condition of maximum potential, realized fully in the present moment.” (Woods, 1989) The Solo House, along with Woods’ recent work, forces the inhabitant to choose. The architect calls this the becoming of self-responsible individuals. (Woods, 1993) Others that have not been brought up with the American value of freedom might find this overwhelming availability of choice a burden. It has been researched that when we are offered a large variety of choice, we often make worse choices than when we are offered a select few. (Iyengar, 2010) In the Solo house one might be too preoccupied with how to live to worry about more important matters.
Lebbeus Woods finds architecture is a political tool that must be used to improve society. (Woods, 1992, 2005) His vision of improvement is through the deterritorialisation of hierarchy and the reterritorialisation of heterarchies (“a spontaneous lateral network of autonomous individuals; a system of authority based on the evolving performances of individuals: e.g., a cybernetic circus.” (Woods, 1989)). Ironically, the Solo House eventually becomes a space loaded with pre-conceived values that not everyone may agree with.
The Solo House with its Freespace is described to be a house for anyone of any background, in particular anyone who “has the desire or necessity to transform their everyday patterns”. (Woods, 1993) Yet most people have difficulties imagining themselves living in such a house because of the nightmarish aesthetic, the unheimlichkeit inherent in the shape, lighting and texture. (Betsky, 1992) (Fig. 4) The traditional sense of shelter, Maslow’s second most basic need, is ripped from the meaning of “house”. We see beauty in a thing well done (Dutton, 2010) which explains why most people don’t find the Solo House aesthetically pleasing. Yet, existentially, it is beautifully crafted. The materials are left to decay and the building, like the inhabitant, exists only in the transitory. (Fig. 5, Fig. 7)
Woods perceives modernist architecture for being a first step towards Freespace however he states it did not capture the chaotic spirit of heterarchies. (Woods, 1993) The Schröder House, with it moving panels and open space is not enough. In essence, the Solo House could be perceived as deconstructivist. Woods describes a world destroyed by war which is rebuilt by scrap material and exclusively in his style, with little regard to historical buildings. (Woods, 1993) He criticizes these buildings and their preservation as instigators of hierarchies and impeders of change. (Woods, 2005) You could say that in order for the Solo House and its environment to exist, the world would have to go through an apocalypse, old buildings would have to fall either through time or through war and the population would have to revolt into anarchy.
The Solo House only exists in illustrations at the present day and can only be explored through the virtual imagination. (Fig. 6) This is why the theory behind the Solo House cannot be tested. Yet the meaning is still powerfully conveyed. Woods, in his book on Terra Nova (1989), a collection of projects in which the Solo House played part, states he wishes observers to interpret his work “in order to explore the possibilities of intended and actual meanings”. The illustrations prove that architecture and artistic representation are essentially the same when exploring and experimenting with architectural thought.
Whether or not architecture affects human psychology and politics is an ongoing debate. Yet what Woods’ believes and embodies in his architecture is that our morals, beliefs and lifestyles are deep-rooted in ourselves and our homes should not oppress these but let them flourish and provide an environment for self-improvement.
Posted by R. Carbó-Mascarell at 7.1.11