Empire of Platforms

Penelope Dean

Excerpt from The Building, José Aragüez ed., published by Lars Müller Publishers, 2016.

“. . . [T]he dimensions of a table or a house are very important—not, as the functionalists thought, because they carry out a determined function, but because they permit other functions . . . because they permit everything that is unforeseeable in life.” [1] Aldo Rossi, 1981

“Neither the Modern Movement nor post-modern have ever understood that a new architecture does not spring from a project method or from a language, but rather from the user’s different manner of using these things . . . architecture has never seriously bothered about the question of its own user culture.” [2] Andrea Branzi, 1984

House NA is a single-family house designed for a couple in Tokyo. At just 914 square feet, it consists only of floors, stairs, columns, and a transparent façade. In response to his clients’ desire for a nomadic lifestyle, architect Sou Fujimoto proposes the metaphor of living within a single tree.[3] The house assumes the sectional characteristics of a scant canopy: floors offset at different heights and connected by short stair runs branch out kaleidoscopically. Through this simple diagram, the house launches socio-spatial relationships between objects, bodies, and activities, opening up new possibilities for living in what might be understood as a foliated interior and a platform plan.

Domestic life typically organizes itself around individual objects of design that are hosted within an architectural interior.[4] In House NA, the downsizing of a single architectural element—the floor—toward the scale of these individual objects renders the architecture itself into an object of design. Diminutive floor plates, ranging from twenty-one square feet—the size of a dining table—to eighty-one square feet—the size of a rectangular trampoline mat—not only approximate the scale of the tables, beds, and chairs they support, but at times even become them, performing as divan, seat, desk, or perch. The floors are individual sites for the accumulation of things and people: designer handbags, Apple laptops, potted plants, books, a green chair, an upright lamp, cushions, wooden tables, a white vacuum cleaner, slippers, bodies. Even conventional architectural elements, such as stairs, accrue on them as portable design objects. The five short open-riser flights, two steep stepladders, and six sets of stacked blocks double as furniture. With its horizontal planes and spindly white steel columns, the house can be read as an open shelving system, a blown-up assemblage of flat surfaces for the stockpiling of possessions and domestic life itself.

Interior view from entry stair toward kitchen and living area. Thin platforms divide the interior horizontally. Objects, bodies, and life itself stockpile on top of them. Photo: Iwan Baan 
Full content is available only for registered users. Please login or Register

[1] Aldo Rossi, A Scientific Autobiography, trans. Lawrence Venuti (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1981): 3.
[2] Andrea Branzi, “Colloquio con Andrea Branzi,” Domus (March 1984): 1.
[3] Project description, “House like a single Tree.” Courtesy Sou Fujimoto Architects.
[4] Andrea Branzi, "Dentro la città," Domus 612 (December 1980): 5.
[5] Edward S. Morse, Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings (New York: Harper & Brothers Franklin Square, 1885): 111–120.
[6] Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982): 110. Italics added. Originally published in French as L’Empire des Signes, 1970.
[7] Ibid., 62.
[8] Here I draw from Jean Baudrillard in “The Structures of Interior Design,” The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict (London: Verso, 1996): 25. For an elaboration of this aspect of design in architectural culture, see my essay “Free For All” in The Routledge Companion to Design Studies, ed. Penny Sparke and Fiona Fisher (London: Routledge, 2016): 21-28