Shown at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, her installation asks us to reimagine what a home means.
Seemingly simple in form, artist Sarah FitzSimons’s House frames a view of architecture at its most minimal. Built from aluminum poles and joints, it traces the volume of a typical two-storey dwelling, with the outline of a pitched roof making the form immediately recognizable. The installation was part of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial and its presence at the city-wide event had a certain resonance, particularly for an architect like me.
Despite the growing number of people living in high-rises, for many the idea of home remains the “architec-typical” gabled roof atop a simple box. As someone who frequently designs homes, I found that the simultaneous clarity and fragility of House freed my imagination to consider the essence of what this form represents – and the power of the interventions we make as architects. For instance, the placement of a window will actually shape the occupants’ view of the world.
The installation reveals a host of “stick houses” as you wander through, each reminiscent of any child’s first drawing of home. But without walls to provide enclosure, it provokes a sense of vulnerability. Precariously placed half on Ohio Street Beach and half in the water, it’s a visceral experience that alludes to the tenuous relationship we craft when we plant a building on a site.
If architecture is about making order out of the world, then siting this archetype over such erratic elements forces viewers to reconcile the essential sense of safety associated with it. There is no public or private, no privileged view or terra firma. Liberated from these expectations, House still references a universal connection, but without the comforts of home it instills a heightened awareness of the shifting ground below and the skyline beyond – not to mention the roofs over our heads.
Co-founder of Toronto firm LGA, Janna Levitt’s career as an architect is informed by her background in the visual arts.