LAVA: Home of the Future
University of Technology Sydney Architecture Warehouse in Chippendale, Sydney
16 March–04 April 2011
by Dr ANURADHA CHATTERJEE
Home of the Future, one of the prominent and current projects by Laboratory for Visionary Architecture (LAVA) Asia Pacific, was exhibited at the University of Technology Sydney Architecture Warehouse in Chippendale, Sydney, 16 March–04 April 2011. LAVA’s Home of the Future is a three-storey high showcase of innovative ideas on domestic living, to be constructed over the Red Star Macalline furniture mall in Beijing, China in 2011-2012. The exhibition consisted of five working models and an illuminated sectional model; large wall banners that displayed concept diagrams, design theory, and fantastical and vivid perspectival and sectional renderings; and a three-dimensional digital animation. Installed within the unfinished shell of the Warehouse, the displays draw the visitor into the Home of the Future as it announces its commitment to the re-figuration of the domestic space, by considering the triangulated liaison between human beings, nature, and technology.
The Home of the Future consists of 15 different living spaces interspersed within and between voids and landscaped terrains. It consists of a landscaped dome base and surrounding walking track; Level 1 spaces such as the lounge, three-dimensional immersive space, kitchen plus store, dining room, compact living, bedroom, bath, fish tank; Level 2 spaces like the bar, restaurant, kitchen, childcare, cinema, and bookshop and the landscaped rooftop walk. The programmed spaces are contained within enclosed or semi-enclosed vertical “pods”. The form of the pods, as well as their arrangement, is underpinned by multiple well-resolved non-orthogonal geometries, such that beautifully crafted and streamlined interior spaces, as well as non-directional and fluid circulation in between the pods, become possible. An ETFE (Ethyl Tetra Fluoro Ethylene) geodesic sky-dome encloses this three-storeyed structure and allows it to be filled with fresh air and light. These design gestures reference historical precedents.
The home of the future is a motif made popular by architectural modernism that made the domestic space a site of constant contestation and innovation. To be modern was to have the ability to live in a civilised and sophisticated manner. Often this required the orientation to the future that resided in the integration of technology with habitation and/or construction of the house. Frederick Kiesler’s Space House (1933), Alison and Peter Smithson’s House of the Future (1956) and Monsanto House of the Future(1957–67), and all its subsequent and contemporary revisions almost always hark back to space travel imagery, evidenced in the use of lightweight materials, moulded space, non-linear geometries, integrated with interactive and projection technologies.1 LAVA's Home of the Future formally references this tradition, whilst also locating itself within post humanist constructs like the artificial and closed eco-systems of the Biosphere 2 (1987–1991), Arizona, aimed at coping with the destruction of Earth’s eco-system as well as aid space colonisation.2 The Home of the Future utilises and transforms these references to reposition the meaning of the domestic interior in a congested metropolis, especially its relation to nature. Without being atavistic or nostalgic in its approach, the project attends to this premise by crafting an overtly new hybrid, technologised, and urbanised form of nature.
A specific understanding of nature underpins the organisation and geometry of spaces in the Home of the Future. This is the theory of minimal surface, which argues that when material is allowed to assume its natural form and not forced into predestined shapes, it will be made of a minimum amount of material between two or more boundary conditions. Minimal surface is evidenced in plants and corals, which consist of a complex network of cells and membranes that are shaped into minimal surfaces by the equilibrium of the tensile forces applied on them.3 The plan and the section of the Home of the Future are based on an abstraction of the clustering of cells in the cellular structure of plants, and the circulation routes echo the inter-cellular spaces.
The Home of the Future assembles diverse ecologies such as foliage, landscaped walking terrains, aquarium, vegetable patches, moss garden, waterfall, and so on. However, the use of nature is always either supplanted and/or complemented by technologies of lighting, projection and display, and interactive media. This is evidenced in the bookshop that has mood-altering light and an aquarium of plants. While the three-dimensional immersive space simulates atmospheric qualities of other-worldly light, the fish tank combines real and mechanical fish. The bedroom uses sleep inducing light as well as lighting to invoke a state of wakefulness, and the bathroom combines the use of mood changing lights with the semi-outdoor showers surrounded by lush vegetation. Similar gestures are made in the design of other spaces.4 In other words, the nature in the Home of the Future is not natural. At night, directional artificial lighting emphasises the underlying veins of the natural terrain, converting it into an electrically animated street-like space. Throughout the project, technology and nature exercise their transformative power on each other, and their coexistence and mutuality is aimed at achieving a combined affect.
The hybrid of the nature and technology does not merely serve the needs of the user. It shifts the expectations and meaning of the domestic space, and displaces the users’ identity within these new interiors. Experientially, this is achieved by preparing users to live in a post-humanist world of simulated realities that simultaneously engage several sensorial faculties.Materially, this is achieved by converting the spaces into bodily prosthetics. As the programmed spaces are constructed out of moulded projections and cavities, they double up as enclosure and furniture, which are integrated with interactive technology. Hence, as the body of the user slides into, brushes past, and touches these surfaces, the distinction between it and the material (walls, floors, ceilings) and immaterial (information and lighting technologies) fabric of these enclosures is undermined.
LAVA’s Home of the Future is positioned with the international, and especially local speculations, such as the Home of the Future Architectural Design Competition (1998), Museum Victoria; Houses of the Future (2004), Sydney Opera House forecourt; Experimenta’s House of Tomorrow interactive media arts travelling exhibition (2003-2005);Home – Real and Ideal (March 2011), Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney. However, unlike these exhibitions, LAVA’s project is neither temporal nor immaterial. This is achieved through the typological conundrum, which is that it contains domestic spaces at multiple scales. The Home of the Future features a compact living module. However, it also displays detached bedroom, bath, dining room, lounge, and kitchen plus store. Furthermore, spaces like the bookshop, childcare, administration, restaurant and three-dimensional space can be interpreted as scaled-up versions of their domestic counterparts such as the library, nursery, study, dining room and entertainment room. These different scales of domestic living are interspersed across a traversable 2,000 sq m of semi-public space. As visitors are prompted to participate in the theatre/workshop of the new domesticity, it is not merely an image but also an experience. The exhibit of LAVA’s Home of the Future scratches only the surface of what the built version will deliver – lived experience of future homes consisting of purposeful innovations achieved through conceptually and experientially nuanced design strategies.