THE INVISIBLE HOUSE

After a two-hour walk I decide to stop. The landscape around me is desolate, the sand dunes move in the direction of the wind blowing them. I take out a map from the pocket of my rucksack, I try to find my bearings, but it’s impossible as the space is continually changing. Suddenly the earth begins to move and a city begins to take shape around me. Buildings rise and fall.

The scene before my eyes is a sort of unstable suspension between a before and after, a sign of the changing place the spectator can only read in the traces it has left behind. Intrigued, I decide to enter this picture, following the tracks of these place changes. The streets are deserted, I try to get information, but there is no-one to ask. I walk up to a two storey building. The first floor is completely below ground. The second is mobile and rises up. I come closer to look inside. The space is well organised and comfortable. Four central pillars contain the elevators to the top floor. The domestic spaces are distributed by moving flexible, functional panels. Everything appears to be perfectly integrated without any interference. Opposite me, two children are playing on the sofa, whereas their mother is busy moving the panels from her computer. Her gestures and words move like the walls of the house. All I can see appears in the form of a certain absence. Visible yet invisible, they hide and appear only via the words, gestures and shapes I have before my eyes. Happy to have perhaps understood the essence of the vision, I decide to exit the picture, but to my great surprise I realise there is nothing to see.

 

M. Merleau-Ponty, L'Oeil et l'Esprit, Editions Galimard

 

Imagine you are in a natural landscape, where the predominant colours vary from yellow to light brown, in which the only existent material is sand or dry clay, in which the only variation is dictated by the difference in levels or heights. Imagine you are facing a place of strong contrasts: blinding light, sharply defined shadows, total darkness, torrid heat, intense cold, etc. Now imagine living in this place without any reference points, without any variations, without any pauses, only with the hypothesis of a dwelling capable of guaranteeing your survival. Lastly, think of the probability that this place has of existing, considering that the process of desertification already taking place will soon reach the south of our peninsula. Thus, the imagination transforms into a contingent problem, which will soon involve us at close hand.

On the basis of these statements and in the expectation of an imminent change, we propose a new type of dwelling, the semi-duplex. We are thinking of a single-family home, which acts as a refuge and becomes a hypogeum architecture (a typical solution in hot countries), but at the same time a system of automation transforms it into a dwelling, which can emerge on two levels, capable of showing its own identity.

During this transformation it oscillates between contrasting spatial conditions. Visible-invisible, above-below, emerging or not, open-closed are all terms which highlight the presence of places, in which the concept alternates between matter and transparency, heaviness and lightness, darkness and light, of immersing and emerging, etc. However, as in all our projects, no one spatial condition prevails over another. 

We are talking of an 80 m2, simply shaped, essential house (steel structure, plastic laminate walls, reinforced glass), as essential as the landscape surrounding it. What is highlighted most is the concept of movement. Via this expedient the roof becomes both the base (as it is a crossing place), which is camouflaged within the landscape, but is also a line which compares with the horizon, a flat surface capable of revealing its essentiality. When the walls slide upwards, they can provide spaces of various sizes, as required: a single large space or nine rooms measuring nine square metres each. The floor is also transparent to allow light to penetrate below ground. It features a double, reticular, steel beam between the four pillars, which allows the walls to slide. The roof and the four load-bearing pillars are all made of steel. It is not very thick (10cm), even though it contains a thin layer of earth or sand.

The space underground is divided into nine tiny rooms, with elements acting as containers: two volumes for utilities and one volume for the night area. We decided to place the computer room in the centre of the house, from where the entire system of automation can be managed. Opposite the computer room is an elevator, which enables objects and food to be easily transported.

Year: 2001

Architect: Anna Rita Emili

Collaborator: Matteo Gentile

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