House Housing: An untimely history of architecture and real estate in 23 episodes

Architecture Midwest On View
House Housing at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Srdjan Jovanivich Weiss)

House Housing at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Reinhold Martin)

After a marathon session of presentations of all architects/artists in the biennial Thursday afternoon was marked by a preview of the complex, yet succinct exhibit House Housing capturing the history of inequality of designed inhabitation. Staged as an open house in one of last remaining buildings of one of the first federally-funded housing complex in Chicago, the exhibition is a walk-through into the part of the future home of the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM).

House Housing at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Srdjan Jovanivich Weiss)

House Housing at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Reinhold Martin)

Standing in front of the open house the curators with NPHM directors and residents gave a glimpse of the process that led to this collaboration to the audience in front of the open house. Inside the entrance a dilapidated apartment served as the concrete prop for the exhibit introduced as “An untimely history of architecture and real state in twenty three episodes”. Empty, low lit rooms with walls carrying scores of uncannily pealed paint become a home for the installation made of home looking furniture, shelves, desks and platforms.

Using multiple mediums and told in 23 episodes throughout the open house, House Housing further uses domestic media such as the phonograph, answering machine, television and iPad to tell the story of inequality of housing that are lived everywhere today. As Martin writes in the pamphlet coming with the exhibit, the domestic media in the installation transforms the crumbling rooms of former apartments into “a whispering, humming history machine.” Being inside the open house gives a special sense to the material presented as a culture that is not only economically constrained, but also lived as form of constraint.

House Housing at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Srdjan Jovanivich Weiss)

House Housing at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. (Reinhold Martin)

With this exhibit the NPHM inaugurates its future home and hopes to further initiate debates on economies for housing not shy of ideological investigations of the cause, crisis and removal of modern housing and its replacement with typologies of new urbanism. A couple of visitors could be heard commenting how the spaces of the open house feel like being in a socialist home, a comment not too far off if one unjustly equates poverty with a specific ideology. Ultimately House Housing points to the “art of inequality” carried via the twenty three episodes that are specific, yet global, that its design is still happening as we experience the open house visit. A bleak preview of the future to come that is also uncertain.

The exhibition is installed by the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture and assembled by a team of researchers at Columbia University directed by Reinhold Martin and curated together with Jacob Moore and Susanne Schindler. The group’s website has more information about this long term project.

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