When Alison and Peter Smithson designed the put-away-house in the 1990’s they were elaborating on an idea, they first put forward in 1958 in an article called “the future of furniture”. Convinced that the overabundance of consumer goods would soon become oppressive, they designed a house with an elaborate backstage: “The heart of the plan is a large-item store, with access directly from outside, available to every room without passing through another room.” They may have anticipated the rise of commodity culture, but they were misguided about its nature. Glut did not represent a burden for the first generation that was able to accumulate a myriad of products. For them, it was the very image of freedom.
Architects were never any good at anticipating changes in the way we live. Excessive and therefore unforgettable architecture always resulted from an end-game. The buildings we call revolutionary are often the final and most revealing examples of a way of life about to disappear. When the Smithsons finally presented a plan for the house in which we were meant to brave the commodified world, it was remarkably conventional, aiming for privacy, comfort, and independence as does any family home since the nineteenth century.
Something has changed however in the lives of the people Alison and Peter Smithson were addressing, a generation often referred to as babyboomers. Their children have left home and many are moving to smaller dwellings, bringing along all the things that have accompanied them throughout their lives. For one such couple, Eagles of Architecture built a house unlike any other.
At the start, there was a house, so conventional it could have been a textbook example, designed to normalize family relations within the home, a setup the owners had no use for anymore. What followed can hardly be described as a refurbishment. The house was emptied out until only the outer walls and the roof was left, and a new house was built on the inside, brave and cartoonlike. A stair spirals a single column that stands off-center in a space no bigger than 7,40 by 5,60 meter. This column is surrounded by a whirling world of cupboards.
The effect is not unlike the ever-increasing number of brooms circling around the poor sorcerer’s apprentice in Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouses movie from 1940. After first having enchanted the broom to help him fetch water, the apprentice is unable to stop the broom from performing this task over and over again. By splitting the broom with an ax, it is not eliminated but multiplied, and the workshop soon floods. The cupboards are not backstage, like those in the put-away-house, they are center stage. They make up the house without organizing or dividing it.
All Mickey Mouse films are founded on the motif of leaving home in order to learn what fear is, Walter Benjamin wrote in 1931. The house Eagles of Architecture built in Dendermonde leaves behind the social construct of a home as their inhabitants face the fears and fearlessness of a generation that braved the world of commodity culture.