I had the pleasure of meeting Norwegian architect Espen Vatn in Chicago at his lecture at the UIC School of Architecture in 2018.

Among the many brilliants projects he showed in this occasion, this one realized with Andrea Pinochet, James Hamilton, Richard Øiestad and Børre Mølstad, simply stood out. The 12 plans and models of In Hannes Meyer Pockets: 12 Life Factories, are in fact an interpretation of Swiss architect and Bauhaus director’s famous requirements for building a house.

Meyer‘s 12 points were a constructed series of parameters that implied the dismantlement of a purely artistic and formal process and the identification of the architect as an “organiser of collective life beyond the constraints of tradition and the nation state”, as brilliantly stated by Amir Djalali (see the further reading section for source). Djalali adds: “The sheer reductionism of Meyer’s ‘building’ has the precise scope of liberating the intrinsic richness of life in all its forms: ‘Because this doctrine of building is close to life’s realities, its theses are constantly changing: because it finds concrete existence in life, its forms are as rich in content as life itself. “Richness is all”.’”

Espen Vatn and his collaborators read each one of Meyer’s points (read the statement for the list) as single architectural projects. In a metaphorical process, the authors seem to reintroduce artistic composition and formal autonomy into play. Rational designs, reductionist in their formal vocabulary (all plans and models are combinations of simple geometrical shapes such as the square, the circle, the triangle), seem to contrast with what is implied in Meyer’s project in the first place: the progressive detachment between the designer and the architectural project, a tendency that is visibly accentuated today by the introduction of digital technologies and parametrization into the design and fabrication process.

Coming back to Djalali’s article: “On the one hand, through parametric design, the final form of a building is not fully controlled by the will of the single designer. The architect is no longer in charge of intellectually conceiving a building form, instead he becomes an organiser of the diagram of a building expressed as a series of relations between environmental, economic and social parameters, and formalised as an algorithm.”

As such, I recognize a latent political stance in Vatn’s reading of Meyer: namely the need in the contemporary context, for redefining a role for the architect as an intellectual and author. As such, a stance which is polemical towards the very implications of its source material.

 

Statement:

IN HANNES MEYERS POCKETS
Year: 2014

Authors:

Espen Vatn (www.studiovatn.com)
Andrea Pinochet (www.groma.no)
James Hamilton (www.at-hh.com)
Richard Øiestad (kvnst.com)
Børre Mølstad

“I also make an analysis of the building site independently of that of the building program. My first visits to future building sites are among the most memorable events of my professional career. The plants, living creatures and minerals I find there usually tell me more about the characteristics of a place than the people accompanying me. Geobotanic studies are a personal hobby of mine and I never leave a building site without a botanic cross-section in my pocket, for plants are a clear pointer to the subsoil and the conditions of life on any part of the earth’s crust.

– Hannes Meyer

Though often overlooked or dismissed in the canonization of the Modern Project, Hannes Meyer (1889 – 1954) was a radical and egalitarian architect that thought of architects as productive individuals whose purpose is to bridge industrial modes of production and art for the advancement of a collective life. In his work, Hannes Meyer gives a definition of the building project that is not only based on the relationship between material, function and aesthetics but one that is intimately entwined with human existence.

The project In Hannes Meyer’s Pockets: 12 Life Factories builds on a program for the organization of habitation outlined by Hannes Meyer. The program was published in a 1928 pamphlet called “Bauen,” listing 12 fundamental points of departure for the organization of architecture:

  1. sex life
  2. sleeping habits
  3. pets
  4. gardening
  5. personal hygiene
  6. weather protection
  7. hygiene in the home
  8. car maintenance
  9. cooking
  10. heating
  11. exposure to the sun
  12. services

Each point frames a singular living program of any inhabitant. These points demarcate essential generators of life and function as a set of analytic lenses for architects to use at the outset of any work. They suggest the possibility of giving place and form to the uprooted existence of the modern subject caused by the onset of industrialization.

In our project, each of the 12 points are read as a singular project. Each condition taken as a generator for 12 different architectures that express aspects of modern life. Each architecture investigates the potential and contentions of architecture today in order to address the fundamental processes that it encapsulates; and to re-imagine the consequences of Hannes Meyer’s conception of living, technology and production of architecture within a contemporary context.

 

THEMES:
ANONYMITY, MASS PRODUCTION, CONDITIONS, SINGULARITY, EXTENSIVE, FINITE

 

1. SEX LIFE
CONDITION: exposure / privacy, finite
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: drive through
noun : sex life
1. a person’s sexual activity and relationships considered as a whole

 

 

 

 

2. SLEEPING HABITS
CONDITION: isolation, extensive
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: dormitory
verb : sleep
gerund or present participle: sleeping
1. provide (a specified number of people) with beds, rooms
noun : habit; plural noun: habits
2. a settled or regular tendency or practice

 

 

 

3. PETS
CONDITION: field, finite
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: dog run
noun : Pets
1. domestic or tamed animal or bird kept for companionship or pleasure.

 

 

 

4. GARDENING
CONDITION: liberated, extensive
SCALE: urban, 1:100
PROGRAM: community garden
verb : gardening
1. the activity of tending and cultivating a garden, especially as a pastime.

 

 

 

5. PERSONAL HYGIENE
CONDITION: channel, finite
SCALE: personal, 1:25
PROGRAM: bath house
adjective : personal
1. belonging to or affecting a particular person
noun : hygiene
2. conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease

 

 

 

6. WEATHER PROTECTION
CONDITION: shelter, extensive
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: garden house / folly
noun : Shelter
1. a place giving temporary protection from bad weather or danger

 

 

 

7. HYGIENE IN THE HOME
CONDITION: ritual, extensive
SCALE: urban, 1:100
PROGRAM: bath house
noun : hygiene
1. conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease
noun : home; plural noun: homes
1. the place where one lives permanently

 

 

 

8. CAR MAINTENANCE
CONDITION: parking, finite
SCALE: urban, 1:100
PROGRAM: Parking
verb : park; gerund or present participle: parking
1. bring (a vehicle that one is driving) to a halt and leave it temporarily

 

 

 

9. COOKING
CONDITION: ventilation, finite
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: communal kitchen
noun : cooking
1. the practice or skill of preparing food by combining, mixing, and heating ingredients

 

 

 

10. HEATING
CONDITION: mass, finite
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: hearth
noun : Heating
1. make or become hot or warm

 

 

 

11. EXPOSURE TO THE SUN
CONDITION: light, extensive
SCALE: domestic, 1:50
PROGRAM: facade
noun : Exposure
1. the direction in which a building faces; an outlook

 

 

 

12. SERVICES
CONDITION: colonnade, finite
SCALE: urban, 1:100
PROGRAM: public space
noun : Services
1. a system supplying a public need

 

 

All images and the statement text: © of the respective authors.

Further reading:

Hannes Meyer’s “building”“(1928) Translated from the German by D.Q. Stephenson. From Hannes Meyer, Buildings, Projects, and Writings, (Teufen AR/Schweiz. Arthur Niggli Ltd.: 1965). in Modernist Architecture

Amir Djalali, “The Architect as Producer: Hannes Meyer and the Proletarianisation of the Western Architect“, in Footprint, The ‘Bread & Butter’ of Architecture: Investigating Everyday Practices | Autumn / Winter 2015 | 27–46. Acces. June, 6th, 2018

 


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