Friday, October 31, 2008
In college, one of the most influential courses I took concerned architecture and democracy, how (to paraphrase Churchill), “first we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”
In the course we looked at early planned subdivisions (the winding roads and cul-de-sacs were designed specifically to counter the “grid” of the city…to instill a kind of bucolic calm), and how these morphed into gated communities (and what that says about our citizenry). We looked at early working-class communities where all the homes backed up to a shared backyard, and how over time, the owners began erecting barriers like fences and tall hedges.
It was instructive not only in the roots of democracy, but in modern perceptions of land use and ownership…and how slowly, in certain communities, there is a sublimation of the individual to the state. Planned communities like Celebration and Seaside were also studied: how even the best intensions go awry and things like walkable, navigable, mixed use space become the sole provenance of the wealthy—for evidence of this closer to home, compare Riverside and Avondale (rapidly being “re-discovered” by the business-class) with the suburbs located of Merrill Road near 9A.
So when I saw this on the Guardian’s website, it proved too absurdly beautiful not to post. Designed by the Copenhagen artists’ collective, N55, the Walking House is a 3.5 metre diameter hexagon of black steel tube, 3.5 metres long.
Concerned with romantic notions of nomadic life, “the inspiration for the design was the Romany travellers’ traditional way of life, roaming the country, and across borders, by caravan, but brought up to date: Walking House has no need for horses and reins or diesel engines, gearboxes and wheels to make it go. While standing still, it generates power through solar cells and small windmills and when fully charged it gets up and walks.”
Here, Jonathan Glancey riffs nicely on the practicality of the project, as well as delving into the history of similar projects, and goes into greater detail.
Oh, and the early idealism that my democracy and architecture class inspired in me, though not completely dead, has been mightily revised…not only do I have an 8 foot high privacy fence in my backyard, I keep it locked up tight. On the one hand, it has practical reasons: to keep the dog from running away, to keep the crackheads from using our backyard as a cut through. But if I am really honest with myself, it is so we don’t have to interact with our neighbors any more than we have too.