Felix Burrichter is a trained-architect and founder of PIN–UP Magazine, a magazine dedicated to “architectural entertainment.” At the Swiss Institute this Friday, he will present his vision of the 21st century home, displaying work from 36 selected designers.
Here, Felix talks about the inspiration behind the show, the ideas underlying the modern home, and where our domestic dreams are headed.
What is the idea behind the show?
The show is called “Pavillon de L’Esprit Nouveau: A 21st Century Show Home” and it is the second iteration of the Swiss Institute’s annual design series which started last year with a show by Andreas Angelidakis. Having a design show in an art space creates an interesting tension because of the demographic who sees it, but also because design is not art. It’s not exhibited in the same way, and it’s also not used in the same way. This exhibition is conceived as an actual show home where you can test some of the furniture, like the bed for example, and use it. They’re not museum pieces—at least for the most part. And just like a show home, there are different zones: a bedroom, a dining room, a living room, a kitchen, and a study-slash-fitness room. All the functions of the domestic realm are there. It just so happens to be that all the pieces in this show home are made by very talented contemporary designers.
“It’s conceived as a show home where you can actually test the furniture and use it.”
Tell us about the inspiration behind this show?
I was inspired by one of Le Corbusier’s early projects, the Pavillon de L’Esprit Nouveau, which was a temporary pavilion at the 1925 Art Déco fair in Paris, which means this year is also its 90th anniversary. What I liked about that project is the fact that it was a domestic space open to the public. Looking at it now, it’s a fairly conventional modernist environment: clean walls, double height ceiling, open plan—all the tropes of modernism were already present there. It is hard to conceive today that this would have been in any way considered a scandalous environment. But that’s exactly what happened- it was a huge scandal. After all, this was the Art Déco fair, and Le Corbusier’s pavilion was anything but. It was the opposite of craftsmanship and decoration. The fair organizers tried to first tear it down, or at least cover it up with scaffolding. The ministry of culture even had to intervene. At the time, the idea of this clean white box was a revolutionary concept for a domestic interior. So I thought: what is the white box of the 21st century? It’s the green screen! The entire exhibition at Swiss Institute will happen in a space that is painted floor to ceiling in chroma-key green. And instead of having art on the walls, like there was in the original pavilion, there will be flat screens…
A simulation from the green screens?
Yes. There are about twelve surveillance cameras installed throughout the space, so as you walk through the exhibition you see yourself walking through the exhibition on the screens, but with completely different environments every time. You have a view, except the view is entirely virtual and programmed. You might find yourself in the living room looking at yourself sitting in a mirage of a living room, in the middle of the desert. Or in space, or in a concrete panic room with an aquarium ceiling.
Why do you call it a show home of the 21st century?
Every piece in the show would have to have an element to it that made it quintessentially 21st century, meaning they would not have been able to be produced before the year 2000. Sometimes it’s just a small detail, sometimes it’s the finish, but other objects are entirely 3D-printed, or made from the latest carbon fiber material that can produce chairs so light they weigh less than a glass of water. So there’s a lot of technical and material innovation in the show. I always like to use an iPhone as an example, because it is from 2007, which means it’s less than 10 years old, but we all take it for granted as if it’s been around forever. In the same way there is a lot of innovation in industrial and furniture design that we take for granted as well. Which isn’t to say that it’s a techy show. It looks like a very comfy home.
“We live in a culture of escapism, and in a culture of surveillance at the same time.”
But it’s not entirely uncritical either. There’s a beautiful essay that Carson Chan wrote for the exhibition, for example, in which he makes reference to “Mechanization Takes Command,” the 1948 book by the architecture critic Sigfried Giedion. Giedion was a great admirer of Le Corbusier, but he was also very critical of his enthusiasm for industrial progress and the idea of the home as a “machine à habiter” (the machine for living).
How does it relate to the “machine à habiter?”
The novelty aspect of creating virtual environments for the domestic realm, the way we’re doing it at the Swiss Institute, also has the disturbing connotation of 24h surveillance. What does that mean when you create a surveillance machine around you, having cameras pointing at you all day and all night? What does that say of the times that we live in where we live under surveillance through CCTV? Or freely give out so much personal information about ourselves through social media, which is another form of surveillance? I think we live in a culture of both escapism and surveillance- which may seem diametrically opposite- and I think this exhibition touches on both of these phenomena. Because a virtual escape from your physical surroundings requires complete surveillance.