If I Were an Architect

For a time in the late 1950s while I was an undergraduate in college, I studied architecture. I wanted badly to be an architect. Yet the world is a better place than it might have been had I taken up the field!  The field of architecture is no place for persons like me who run too easily after strange ideas.

Take my Punk Roofs for example. Please, someone, take them! It is not all that difficult to conceive of a neighborhood where “keeping up with the Joneses” means having a weirder roof than one’s neighbor. Yet can you imagine the upkeep and maintenance issues? How does one clean such a roof? How much insurance would roofers need before they climbed up a ladder to re-shingle a roof, or re-sharpen a roof’s spines? What would happen if a balloon full of tourists, operated by a nearby hot air balloon concession, lost power and sank into this neighborhood?

America is a strange place. It is a great and wonderful place that allows odd fads, cults, communes and crazy Utopian villages to thrive. It is a place where adults live basically without supervision much of the time. Since Americans are so into their cars – the rest of the world will never be able to compete with the U.S. in automobile fanaticism – I reasoned that an entire village could be built that would simulate the experience of being in one’s car or motorhome every day of the year. The concept above shows a happy couple inside their Auitohome, waking up to the recorded sounds of cars at rush hour. A mist-spraying device emits a non-toxic perfume that mimics the smell of exhaust fumes and motor oil. The village that I imagine is on a pleasant, sunny hillside. The occupants do not actually need to go anywhere. One of their rooms, fitted out like the interior of an automobile, would provide a Naugahyde-lined office space with computer and Internet, perfect for fulltime telecommuting.

I have always believed that no dumb concept is worth leaving unexplored. Here, I tried turning useless attic space into an upper-floor garage. It could be argued that this concept, which requires steel girder construction to support the attic garage and ramped driveways, simply creates new, and even more useless, spaces. It could be argued that the entire house would vibrate when the breadwinner pulled into the garage after coming home from work. It could be argued that this idea has few virtues.

If anyone were to ask me to draw the sort of house I would like to live in, I would reply by asking “Do you want my honest answer?” Truthfully, I would love to live in a home that that had no – or very few – straight lines or flat, rectilinear surfaces. There would be no right angles. To enter a room, one might roll or fall along a cushioned, soft corridor and climb in through a hole. The experience would be the near opposite of opening a door and entering a squared-off room. Call me a hippie, go ahead.

A neighborhood – an entire suburb – of such homes would be quite original looking. The only requirements of future homebuyers would be a) that they actually intend to live in the home and b) that they are willing to be emotionally “honest”. The idea of emotional honesty is tricky, of course. But a new buyer of one of these homes would be required to meet with an Architect-Psychologist at a sales office and play with modeling clay. The Architect-Psychologist would say: “Tell me what you are feeling right now.” “What does it feel like to push your finger into the clay?” “Are you sure you loved your mother?” “Would you ever feel like hiding and curling up on the floor, as for instance in a dark hole that has no other purpose than for hiding?”  Once the client and the Architect-Psychologist had agreed on a design after several sessions, the home would be built along the lines of the clay model. In later meetings, paint samples would be reviewed and discussed: “What are your feelings about purple?”

It is hard to imagine perfectly what it would be like to live in a community where all the homes were organic-looking piles, clumps and lumps – shapes that had been determined on a whim at the Architect-Psychologist’s clay sculpting table. The community might feel disorienting. At least, one would not have the problem of cookie-cutter sameness in home design! A staple of cartoonists for The New Yorker magazine in the 1950s and 60s was the image of a man – understood to be the primary Breadwinner – coming home drunk and trying to unlock the front door of a home, identical in appearance to his own, but several houses down the block. The jury is out on my idea – the jury being my own imagination as it tries to place a small version of myself down inside this drawing, with its little cars and creepy-plastic-looking homes.

I was at one time seriously interested in the concept of living in a baked home. There is a tradition in Iran of firing ceramic homes by building a hot fire inside – making the home into a kiln – and sealing off all windows and doors until the clay turns to a stone-like hardness. Such homes are quite resistant to earthquakes, even in an earthquake-prone region like Iran. I have long liked the idea of owning a home that cost almost nothing to construct. If you don’t believe me about the possibilities with ceramic homes, look up the work of architect Nader Khalili (1936-2008), who worked professionally as an architect in Tehran and other major cities designing office buildings until he grew tired of the rat race and dropped out. Preferring to spend much of the day reading the mystical poems of Rumi, he built his own community in the desert city of Hesperia in southern California. There, he experimented with his Geltaftan Earth-and-Fire system for making ceramic houses and his Superadobe construction method. His work is promoted and furthered by a loose-knit community that he founded. The group can be contacted at CalEarth.org.

In my drawing, I envisioned an entire community of baked homes. I see myself living in one of these homes.

Visit Steven M. Johnson at his website..

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These are absolutely outrageous and i lovem! I wonder if Steven has heard of Archigram... a legitimate firm that proposed insane ideas!

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Mr. Johnson: If you haven't already, you should view the work of Dr. Eugene Tsui: http://www.tdrinc.com/architecture.html . One of the criteria he had in designing a "California-proof" house for his parents was that it have no right angles, as this is the place where stresses would build up during an earthquake. If fact, the parabolic cross-section of that house is actually intentionally inspired by a microscopic creature called a tardigrade, reputedly the most indestructible lifeform on earth.

By the way, I'm glad to see you're getting new exposure here on Neatorama. I've been a fan ever since an issue of Games Magazine in the mid80s showed an excerpt of "What The World Needs Now."
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