Normal House

Project

The etymology of the word “normal” means “that which is made by the carpenter’s square.” It is manufactured by humans, consists of right angles, and behaves predictably. In the postwar decades, the convergence of mass media, shortage of housing and the federal need to reconstitute the “social body” made normality no longer something innate, but rather a quality to be actively pursued. Despite its exclusionary history, unsustainable patterns of growth, and intrinsic economic volatility, the image of the “normal house” is still one that resonates with the current housing market.

A defining characteristic of suburban architecture is the economic model that revolves around consumer choice, and the illusion of individuality via property. This system, like the architecture itself, is actively designed. This systematized effort is conducted to make home ownership, family life and even your choice of normal house incredibly easy. Through the coordination of normality and automaticity we continue to produce an architecture of the status quo. Today, this regularity is incongruous with the diverse set of domestic arrangements of the people that now occupy the suburbs, which is over half the country, coming from a very diverse set of backgrounds, and not just the “nuclear family” anymore.

In response, the project of the ‘normal house’ is seen as a point of departure in the working out of a stance that explores the tensions between architectural form and its representation. Counter to a convenient stillness, a contemporary posture of “Lazy Deconstructivism” leans toward inconvenient motion made easy– utilizing the tension between an object’s physicality and simulation to become a new working method. This stance relishes in the predictable representational banality of BIM and in the ease of the consumer App as sites for an architecture of simulative interrogation. How can a plastic architecture of unpredictability allow for the more accommodating “model home”?

Interview

What prompted the project?

The project was prompted by my interest in contemporary urbanism and new modes of domesticity. I became increasingly interested in the nuclear suburban household as it has become an ideal image for “normal” domestic life and has persistently dominated the housing market and national economy since the postwar period.

Influenced by the 2011 MoMA PS1 exhibit, “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream”, I thought that it would be interesting to return to suburbia over ten years after the recession to determine what (if anything), has changed in terms of housing on a national level. As it turns out, the areas of the country which were hardest hit during the recession are once again the fastest growing metro areas in the country, indicating the resonance of the “normal house” in the current housing market.

What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?

A primary question the project raises is how a culturally engrained domestic architecture can be adapted to accommodate more flexible modes of living and challenge the unsustainability of low-density sprawl. The suburban home is a carefully constructed system in terms of its urbanism, architecture, and means of production. Knowing I couldn’t necessarily reinvent all aspects of it, I was more interested in interrogating specific episodic conditions at various scales as a means of constructing a new image of normality. In that regard I don’t think this project aims to “answer” or offer a complete alternative, but rather it provides a starting point in subverting established architectural norms.

How does it question the effects and relationships between BIM software and contemporary architecture?

Representationally, I was interested in the banal environments and the ‘back-of-house’ labor that is involved in the production of architecture – namely in a Revit/BIM universe. The contemporary design systems we utilize to simulate are as engrained with normalizing automatic behaviors as the architecture that they produce. The ability for walls to stand up straight without falling over, for objects to float in electronic space or collide without impact are all representational behaviors of stillness we have engrained into our software for our convenient use as practitioners. Just as the GUI in the appworld is automated for the ease of consumer choice, our software is already pre-wired towards ease of form.

Through a criticality towards commands, constraints and OS interactions, we may begin to undo the presumed feedbacks in representational space and propose new alternatives for architecture in the physical realm. This means meeting the ease of disciplinary automaticity with a posture of rigorous laziness. Rather than a meticulous engagement with pictorial composition, a stance towards “Lazy Decon” is more concerned with setting the stage and allowing operational events to unfold in real-time.

What informed the language of representation of the project? What defined the articulation through maquettes?

The project is seen as a point of departure in the working out of a stance that explores the tensions between architectural form and its representation. Counter to a convenient stillness, a contemporary posture leans toward inconvenient motion made easy – utilizing the tension between an object’s physicality and simulation to become a working method.

Using animation in the production of architectural form, I was interested in the models becoming a “freeze frame” of the normal house within a simulative environment, as if someone hit a pause button while designing their house. This notion of incompleteness is meant to establish that architecture should be flexible and subject to change and should not remain stagnant as the “normal house” has done for over half a century.

What tools were implemented in the development of the project, from concept to research to execution?

Coinciding with my interest in animation as a working method, I began the project by working on unrelated software experiments, trying to test the limits of the tools that we commonly use as designers, namely Rhino, Grasshopper, Revit and Photoshop. As crude as they were at the beginning, I was constantly trying to find links between motion, the automaticity of architectural form, and its socioeconomic implications. As the project moved forward, these tools and their limits began to inform a representational agenda of the “live shop drawing”, a constantly updating BIM universe that automates the physical production of a design in the consumer Appworld.

What role do the GIFS hold in the evolution of the project? how important were they as testing mediums?

As mentioned above, the GIFs were integral in using motion as a method of producing form. Their short duration also allowed me to iterate multiple times and to work on many ideas simultaneously, as opposed to working on one building or digital model as the focus of the project. The GIFS were both method and final product, and in many ways, it was very liberating to continue building upon a body of work rather than having to take steps back and redraw something over and over.

Are you interested in developing the project further? If so, how?

I think as architects we only ever really do one project, so yes. I considered this thesis as a point of departure in the development of my own position within the discipline, and I think that the working methods I established throughout this process will continue to percolate and evolve in future work.

Do you see a space for a tangible evolution of the normal house?

I think the evolution of the single-family detached home is almost inevitable. Despite its reflections of an exclusionary domestic condition, over half the country currently lives in the suburbs, coming from a diverse set of backgrounds and are not just the “nuclear family” anymore. I think most people would be receptive to a more flexible alternative to the existing if offered the choice.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

Our criticality. For this project I was most concerned with interrogating the overlooked, and as designers of the built environment we should continue to re-read disciplinary standards and question their relevance in our proposals for any alternative.

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