Organized by Art Center in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the show offers a provocative variety of visions for the so-called intelligent house of the future, specifically anticipating advances in technology, building materials and shifting demographics over the next 20 years.
And as hoped for in this day and age of inconvenient truths, threaded through the wealth of contrasting offerings by an international cadre of relatively young designers is an acute concern for the failing, fragile environment and the need for sustainable, or "green," architecture.
The concerns are, of course, not new, certainly not to those who follow the precepts of tikkun olam, the sacred mission of Jews to repair the world. Among those who not too long ago had to elbow their way into the once WASP-dominated design profession, this meant being particularly sensitive to ecological and contextual constraints; that architecture was a social art that could create places of human endeavor in concert with the earth.
That is, if they had the chutzpah to press the precepts, they were usually labeled as suspect environmentalists or, worse, social activists, among the usually conservative firm principals and even more conservative clients.
This rarely happened, however, and some would say that architects who happen to be Jewish too often assimilated all too well.
But as this exhibition illustrates, repairing the world is back in vogue, and whether this attitude is informed by a mystical Jewish tradition or the rising secular sociopolitical economic concerns -- or the heretofore faddish Art Center's need to be au courant -- sustainability will likely increasingly drive the world's design scenarios.
Among the more provocative, if not prophetic, displays in this exhibition is the "Dunehouse," by su11 architecture + design of New York, a single-family prototype designed to adjust to the extreme temperatures and harsh landscapes of the Nevada deserts, much like a cactus or tumbleweed.
The "Jellyfish" house by Iwamoto/Scott/Proces2 of Berkeley, goes beyond just providing a unique flexible live/workspace and is designed with a sophisticated water reclamation process as part of its structural skin that the architects claim can cleanse their sites. This house was specifically invented to be located on the toxic soil of Treasure Island, a former military base in San Francisco Bay, but its concept also could be applied to other contaminated locations.
In contrast to such scientifically sophisticated conceits, there are some houses here that are just plain silly, offering comic relief to this thought-provoking exhibition. These include the "open the house " concept, for which the house need not provide a heating or cooling system, because the inhabitants will simply wear special clothing designed to regulate their own microclimate.
Actually, this is an ancient concept, one my mother appropriated when we complained of being cold in our underheated house, telling us to wear an extra sweater and drink some hot tea.
"Towers in the Park," which deals with anticipated increased density in the South Korean city of Seoul, includes clusters of vine-entwined structures that soar like giant sculptured topiaries and contain a variety of flexible private "cells" and public spaces. The result is environmentally friendly, landscaped vertical neighborhoods.
One would have hoped for more urban designs addressing the heightening challenges of increasing population, dwindling resources and urban density, as noted by co-curator Dana Hutt in a catalog accompanying the exhibit.
As for the show's installation, designed by Nikolaus Hafermaas of Art Center, one could quibble with the placement of the display boards, the small type not being at eye level, and the lack of more audiovisuals and interactives, especially considering the topic. Too much tell and not enough show.
But to be fair, quite a lot of information is presented, however convoluted and weighted down in pseudoscientific semantics. For this writer, the history section was a trip down memory lane. Certainly no exhibition on the future of houses can be complete without a look back at the fantasies projected in the past, such as in the visionary work of Buckminster Fuller.
There is much to contemplate here, coming just when you thought you were finished refurbishing your home to make it as environmentally friendly and aesthetically modish as possible, be it by installing solar heating, low-flush toilets or hanging your wash out to dry.
Admission is free and open to the public. Now there's a concept for both the present and future.
"Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living," continues at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena's south campus, 950 S. Raymond Ave., through July 1. Tuesday through Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Saturday, noon-6 p.m.
Seoul Commune 2026 is a proposal for an alternative sustainable community, viable in an overpopulated metropolis. Courtesy Art Center College of Design
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