I recently read a NYTimes article about a tiny extension house on Long Island with a grand mission: to lengthen the life of humans through jarring aesthetics that engage the body, and in turn facilitate the stimulation of the immune system. The Bioscleave House is based on a novel concept; one that takes an inverted look at sustainable living by focusing first on the immediate environment which we inhabit, and thereby sharpening our attitude toward the world at large.
Ilya Korolev, a close friend and architect, recently had the opportunity to experience the Arakawa and Madelin Gins designed Bioscleave House with his family. The visit was commissioned by a Swiss television crew in order to capture a family’s reaction to the house on film. Excited, the Korolev’s – Ilya, Keiko and Yuri (3) – piled into the crew’s van and headed out for a day of ‘lifespan expansion’.
The Bioscleave House, with its undulating floors, zig-zagging room dividers, Crayola colors and windows at odd angles and heights, appealed to the playground aesthetics that three-year-old, Yuri prefers. But its environment certainly did not lend itself to Ilya’s more dadcentric sensibilities. “Intended to evoke a youthful sense of wonder,” the house left Ilya wondering about its purpose. His befuddlement falls in line with what Don Ihde, a professor at Stony Brook and a close friend of Arakawa and Gins, said in the Times article. “Most people who interpret their work,” he said, “take it as metaphorical.”
Upon their return, I did a short, informal interview with Ilya to discuss the house’s familial practicality. Below he gives his thoughts on the Bioscleave House, leaving the frilly metaphors to the Bioscleave’s creators.
What were your expectations before arriving at the house?
Honestly, because everything I had read about the designers paints them as wildly eccentric, I was very skeptical about the house.
Did you have any idea how Yuri would react to it?
I thought it would be fun for Yuri, a new kind of playground experience.
A playground he has to share with adults. When you got there what did he think?
Yuri was really excited. I think he also realized that he was being watched and filmed, so, because of this he was showing off a little bit too.
Aside from visiting on special assignments, do you think a family could inhabit the space, or is it more fit for a childless couple?
This house is a representation of a brilliant idea about eternal living, but in reality my family found it uncomfortable. The lifestyle you are supposed to lead there is still a mystery to me (empty new houses are always so different from houses people have lived in). I would not know what to do, where to get comfortable, and maybe that’s the whole point. But if it is the point, then I think it’s not radical enough, since there is a conventional kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. It’s the in-between spaces which are unprogrammed and almost uninhabitable. They really divide the whole house even though there are almost no partitions.
Besides the crazy colors, did you notice anything kid-friendly about the house?
I think children might like it better than adults because it is out of the ordinary and very open. It could be good for play, if a bit dangerous.
[It should be noted that the Times piece began “The house is off-limits to children” and even adults are asked to sign a waiver before entering.]
As a dad and an architect, what was your impression after spending a day at the house?
In general, the oddly shaped surface of the ground makes you feel like you are outside, in a natural setting. This is intentional of course, as it is not supposed to be adapted to your needs like a typical architectural structure. Adjusting to the ‘wildness’ of the house is sort of nice, and it makes you question the relationship between humans and the environment.
On the other hand, the constricted shell of the building, lack of circulated air, synthetic materials, and symbolic gestures (such as the shape of the skylight and the Star Trek-like light switches), makes everything look sort of like an outdated version of the future. But you should remember that Arakawa and Gins are not trained architects. They are artists who have managed to fit their grand concept of ‘sustainable living’ into the details of this small house. I guess I always appreciate architecture with clarity of intent and clarity in execution. In this case, I am at a loss.
Confusing concepts aside, the house does look like tons of fun. And according to Arakawa, if you ask the tenants of the design couple’s Japanese lofts (above), they’ll swear the units keep them young and healthy. So as Ilya points out, if the concept were scaled back a little to allow for a more down-to-earth feel and more attention was paid to the materials used, a house similar to the Bioscleave might exist in all of our reversed destinies. And from the photos on the Reversible Destiny website, kids are definitely allowed.
More information on the Bioscleave House can be found at ReversibleDestiny.org. And you can watch video of the Korolevs (dubbed the Sepp family for a bit of Swiss humor), experiencing the Bioscleave house here.