"The Un-Private House," July 1-Oct. 5, 1999, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
An un-private house sounds like a nightmare. Home is, after all, where we all go to escape public life. As it happens, however, the 26 contemporary houses in the Museum of Modern Art's "Un-Private House" exhibition -- presented via models, drawings and photos -- actually enable more privacy than ever before.
In fact, you don't have to leave your house at all. These hyperdesigned structures provide everything you need, from home gyms and video-art galleries to customized work spaces and spiraling wheelchair ramps.
To get viewers in the mood, Terence Riley, MoMA chief curator of architecture and design, installed the show as if it were a domestic space. (Come mid-July, once the virtual exhibition is on MoMA's website, www.moma.org, you really won't have to leave your own house to see it.)
Each architectural model is displayed on a piece of furniture designed by David Schaefer, Bill Katz and Andrée Putnam of Furniture & Co. Photographs of the completed projects and drawings of the models are printed on custom-made wall paper.
And the show is complete with its own high-tech touches. At the entrance is what MoMA calls a "interactive welcome mat" -- a rectangular light beam projected on the gallery floor that lights up your path (for a few feet, anyway). Inside is a large round white table. Utterly unassuming, it turns out to be a computer-generated touch screen that gives a virtual tour of the show.
Of the 26 houses on display, 16 have been built, four are in stages of planning or construction and six are mere models. Almost all have a minimalist design, with sharp, clean lines, vast, smooth surfaces and lots of glass, steel and masonry. But in spite of the less-is-more prevailing esthetic -- so much so that you might think you've stepped into a Mies Van de Rohe seminar -- each model is rich in detail of function, if not form.
The Kramlich Residence and Media Collection, by the Swiss team of Herzog and de Meuron, was conceived to accommodate the patrons' extensive collection of electronic art. Partitions between rooms serve as screens for video, film and digital projections. Undulating walls replace flat surfaces, so that the projections echo the asymmetrical space that flows through the house. Underground is a darkened, windowless area that serves as another gallery for electronic art.
Much of the architectural experimentation in the show focuses on the home office. Electronic information floods into the Lipschutz/Jones Apartment in New York, designed by the firm of Frank Lupo/Daniel Rowen for the residents, two currency traders. The home features a digital trading room that can be viewed from multiple points in the apartment, along with six video monitors showing 24-hour financial information. The electric glow of the trading room and monitors is intentionally incorporated into the esthetic of the space.
Sulan Lolatan and William Mac Donald designed the Ost/Kuttner Apartment, also in New York City, as a pied à terre that doubles as a guest house for their corporate clients. The architects used software to morph multiple functions into single pieces of furniture to accomodate the limited space. A flap in a partition separating rooms, for instance, opens up to serve as a dining table, and a fiberglass chamber functions simultaneously as a sleeping and bathing area.
The marriage of form and function is clearly crucial to contemporary design. Diller + Scofidio's unbuilt Slow House, planned for a plot above Noyack Bay on Long Island, was conceived "as an apparatus for producing a view." The corridor-like layout directs all attention to the waterfront glass façade. Outside, a video screen provides an image that oddly duplicates the same view. The house that architects Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam built for themselves in Atlanta was structured around a lap pool, and the design of Simon Ungers and Thomas Kinslow's T-House is conditioned by the writer/resident's collection of books.
These architectural models might spark fear of a 21st-century hermeticism, where technology enables less and less physical interaction with humanity. If my home resembled any one of these designs I'd never want to go out either.
MEREDITH MENDELSOHN is associate editor of Artnet Magazine.