or pick a random keyword:

La petite maison. An architectural seduction

Tânia Moreira David

A surprising exercise in transliterated narrative.

The transformation of a former Dairy into a five-bedroom house is the occasion to reflect upon the communication of a private architectural space and its long-distance perception. Tânia Moreira David worked to direct the film in close cooperation with the architect Charlotte Skene Catling, founder of the firm Skene Catling de la Peña which designed this petite maison. By means of a sensorial approach to the experience of architectural settings, they intertwine the film and the built environment and realize their ambitious attempt to connect rational awareness with the intuitive perception of spaces.

The Skene Catling de la Peña project that is at the core of this film was inspired by Jean-François de Bastide's 18th century novel: "La Petite Maison". The novel is both an architectural treatise and an erotic novella. The story focused on the tour of Mélite, in the country retreat of the Marquise de Trémicour, who challenges her to resist the seduction and the spell of the architecture of his Petite Maison. Likewise in the film, the rooms of the Skene Catling Dairy House are narrated through an imaginative reconstruction of the journey by an ethereal Mélite and the "merging of human presence to the space".

Within the context of the novel, the idea that the architecture itself is the centre and generator of narrative leads to a parallel between the courtship of the Marquis and his description of the design of the house. Similarly in the film the architectural setting is featured as the main protagonist, "both observer and seducer", with its pair of telescopes set into an entrance wall of two-way mirror at eye level. The film occurs in the rarefied and intimate atmosphere of the novel: rooms and hidden angles slowly unfold as the story of Mélite and of his suitor is retraced. Music and filtered light create imaginary lines, that cut unexpected perspectives and secret spots out of the redefined spaces of the Dairy House.

The scenery of this film highlights the design of the architecture in order to overwhelm spectators with the notion of a controlling 'erotic gaze' and to let them 'perceive' those spaces even from a distance. In this case it seems particularly clear how the movie is the only mean that allows to act the perception of space by light, time and sound contemporaneously whenever it's not possible a direct experience of it. As an instance, the presence of water within the project (two bathrooms, the small pool) is mostly played out indirectly through effects of refraction and reflection that recreate a kind of aquatic underworld.

Some of the fundamental elements that inspired the design of the Dairy House are taken up from the architectural typology of the novel and influence the narrative style of the film as well: the inversion of the normal hierarchy between public and private (the more intimate spaces are elaborate and luxurious) and the coexistence of the extreme privacy of inner rooms and a wider openness to the surrounding Somerset countryside. The Dairy House is designed to be a private retreat for the client and an exclusive place to which to escape from the main estate.


Author: Charlotte Skene Catling
Architect: Skene Catling de la Peña
Mentioned project: The Dairy House (2008)
Project location: Somerset, United Kingdom
Music: William Kingswood

United Kingdom 2009
Duration: 7'08''

First selected for VISIONS, the 2009 edition of BEYOND MEDIA Festival organized by Image. Screened at the Asolo International Art Film Festival (Treviso, Italy, 2009), Rotterdam Architecture and Design Film Festival (Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2009), New York Architecture and Design Film Festival (New York, USA, 2010), Chicago Architecture and Design Film Festival (Chicago, USA, 2011), 4th InShadow - International Festival of Video, Performance and Technologies (Lisbon, Portugal, 2012), Arquiteturas Film Festival (Lisbon, Portugal, 2013).