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Discipline and Polish

Marco Brizzi

11:16 min

A BEHAVIOR IS BEING DEFINED in the latest years about documenting and narrating spaces. A behavior that both involves the public sensitivity and, especially, entices and nourishes representations made by architects themselves. Kind of a found humanity that tends to overlap and hybridize with the most icastic images on which architecture manifested itself on magazines and monographs in the last decades. Works of architecture tend to appear less perfect and embrace the prosaic dimension from which the mainstream of modernist tradition and part of its legacy artificially removed it. The dream of an intact, pure, perfect, clean work of architecture shining in the sun has been broken since many years, but a wide interest in displaying the "dark side" of architecture only recently emerged.

I believe that this phenomenon is related to the settlement of independent, multiple points of view, that are offered and shared on the Web. To show the other side of a work of architecture, as more and more people do by recalling their visit to more or less famous buildings, is not only a way to express that "I was there" by indicating an original or unusual point of view. It is also sometimes a way to declare that "the King is naked" and to achieve that such an icon, looking so intact and perfect the way we admired it on paper, is ultimately approachable. A way to be touched by discovering that a human side always exists, also in the works of architecture that have been placed on the media scene with the most solemn authority.

THE PHENOMENON was bursting through the (rightfully) celebrated "Koolhaas Houselife" film by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine. The film was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2008, accompanied by an original and effective editorial apparatus, and gave birth to a series of further productions (Living Architectures) where famous buildings are narrated from the point of view of the users, who inhabit and live them every day. The point of view of those who, often and not always willingly, are in charge of cleaning that building and making it work every day. Let's look at this fragment, where the protagonist of the "Koolhaas Houselife" film is introduced, the maid Guadalupe Acedo. After the release of the movie and as a consequence of the great success it achieved, Guadalupe became as famous as the beautiful house designed by architect Rem Koolhaas. Her concern for cleaning the house guides the spectator towards unexplored spaces and areas and helps to express a sense of reality that had long been absent from the history of the major and minor works of architecture of our time. Jacques Tati's irreverent and desecrating irony about the relationship of people with modernity is now incorporated in such a narrative that permits a shift of the traditional central viewpoint on architecture. A shift that also produces a dissemination among the professionals, who are more and more curious to confront themselves with the "other stories" of architecture. Perhaps in order to feel they are a part of them.

NOW LOOK AT THE CHOICE of portraying the vital moment and heady inauguration of a new architecture, such as the "Centre de Cultura Contemporanea de Castelo Branco" designed by Josep Lluís Mateo. In selecting how to document with his video the building, photographer Adrià Goula made ​​an anti-celebrational choice. After describing the festive atmosphere of the inauguration, and beyond a contemplative break based on a series of photographs accompanied on the piano, Goula takes the viewer in front of the innermost dimension in the life of the building. How can we become acquainted with spaces, surfaces, construction materials? With a scrubbing brush in the hand, no doubt!

The protagonists of the paradoxical story structured in the "El Espinar house" (designed by Miguel de Guzmán, who is photographer and author of the video collected in the Architecture Player) don't devote themselves to cleaning. Yet their bizarre presence defines a paranarrative level, behind which the work of architecture described through the "dirty" views and paths shows itself more real and therefore more beautiful than it could have been shown in the more conventional representations of architecture. Imagination can benefit from this approach that results from the possibility to get closer and understand unknown environments, as well as from unexpected disruptions in the narration of architecture.

Freedom in narrative also corresponds to freedom and ease in architectural design. The assembly of materials and the definition of spaces are guided by a sensitivity and a disruptive power of expression which are not independent from the intuition of their representation.

IF YOU GO BACK A BIT IN TIME, a no less irreverent attitude is found in the first videos produced by 2a+p. During their early years in Rome, the group of young architects started a variety of editorial experiences between 1999 and 2001, including the direction of the magazine that bore their name. On the second issue of "2a+p" magazine an architectural novel was released in the shape of a picture story, then transcribed into a video. In this story, titled "Bubble House," 2a+p was ironic about the myth of perfection and total control that researches in digital architecture were brushing up on in those years. The digital house, elegantly made out of curved surfaces and dense in emotional effects, at one point reveals its inner nature, that of a bare, parallelepiped box: so empty and clean it looks like a modest and formidable epitome of rationalist abstraction.

This path could never end. And it will continue in relation to both the evolution of our observation instruments and the consequences they may generate in our need for new architectural stories.

Koolhaas Houselife


A subverting and inspiring story about a spectacular masterpiece of architecture.

In "Koolhaas Houselife" Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine let the audience enter the most intimate and unexpected spots of the famous and celebrated house by Rem Koolhaas and OMA in Bordeaux. The building is the real protagonist of the overall video, the rooms and the hidden spaces are narrated through the actions and the everyday work of the housekeeper. An icon of contemporary architecture is depicted in its most common and everyday settings, that may include dusty shelves and leaks in the walls.

The film makers subvert the traditional imagery that depicts famous architectures as something perfect and untouchable. They rather chose to focus on the fragility of those spaces and places by observing them from the point of view of the people who maintain, clean and inhabit them, thus looking at the architecture in a different way, beyond its aesthetic values. It's not about an objective, detached description, but a personal and oblique glance in the intimate dimension of architecture. The fragmentary structure of the films reproduces the idea of a "deconstruction of the point of view", in order to "make a film which could offer numerous angles and observations".

The film - that was produced in 2008 and presented in 2010 with great press resonance on an international basis, in preparation for the related DVD-book collection published in 2013 - opens "Living Architectures", a five films project by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine about some of the most celebrated masterpieces of contemporary architecture.


Architect: Rem Koolhaas, OMA
Mentioned project: Maison à Bordeaux (1998)
Project location: Bordeaux, France
Production: Bêkafilms (Ila Bêka, Francesco Pappalardo)

France 2007
Duration: 58'