- Kivi Sotamaa
The Moebius House
Man understands the world around him through language based systems. The human experience consists of information processed through language, other culturally dependant language-like systems, and immediate bodily experiences external to language . The two components are intertwined in the human experience . Most contemporary architects treat architecture as a language based system and in their work operate through established cultural typologies without considering architecture as a material practice operating also beyond language. In the design process they take the role of the assigner of meaning and presume that the encoded meanings and instructions-for-use will be transmitted to the end user.
In reality people and the society, not the designer, act as the encoders of the environment. Given that the end users give meaning to architecture, what becomes the role of the architecture and its designer? Could architecture operate analogically to natural landscape as an immediate material environment which is decoded and at the same time rich in potential for meanings and ways of use. Could there be an architecture that allows the users to take the role of the assigner of meaning, the role of the encoder, an architecture that refrains from projecting meaning, systems of value, ideologies, instructions-for-use and social behavior? Ben van Berkel’s architecture is a good illustration of what the de-coded architecture rich in potential layers of meaning and ways of use could be in material construction.
Van Berkel’s architecture is not about the production or projection of meanings, but about constructing meaning potential. In contrast to most of current architecture Ben van Berkel’s/UN studio’s Moebius House allows the inhabitant or the visitor to take the role of the creator of meaning and innovator of functions. In designing the house van Berkel and the UN Studio have been aware it is the inhabitants who will be conceiving the meanings, inventing the stories, creating the habits and ways of occupying the space. Even though the architecture of the Moebius House can mean something to us only through language and language like systems, the design process of the house has not been based on language. The house marks the birth of new architectural typology and presumably will occupy a space in architectural history just as Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy did, as the prototype of the modernist typology.
The Moebius House is a sophisticated choreography of space and material that does not attempt to project meanings, dictate the way the spaces or surfaces should be used. It is full of potential for ways of use and affordances in the material surfaces for different functions. It captures the visitor’s imagination, and invites interpretations, layer by layer. It is a complex building intricately woven and created from a few threads. The experience of moving through the building, walking on the Moebius Strip, could be compared to wondering through a rich natural landscape; an experience that takes place on an undulating continuous topographical surface, through a multitude of spaces of different nature, spaces which are full of affordances for different activities, interpretations and situations.
From the published pictures it is impossible to predict the experience of moving through the spaces of the Moebius House, it seems to be woven from endless surfaces of different and an endless series of interlocking spaces created by them. It is impossible to clearly distinguish the beginning or the end of any particular space because the surfaces never meet head on but wrap around each other like two dancers and every space sems to lead another one, there is always a view to a another space even if only through reflection. As the name implies, walking around in the Moebius House seems like travelling on an endless path that raps around itself.
Judging form the majority of the photographs of the Moebius House the construction is mainly of concrete and glass, the pictures do not convey what a rich and refined construction of different materials it is in reality. In the core of the building there is a black granite bathroom, in the ceiling and walls there are at least three different kinds of wood , from light, smooth panelling to dark screens. In both exterior and interior surfaces there is green glass and bare concrete of different finishes, the window curtains are made of one layer of bright yellow sail fabric and another of semi-transparent white fabric, the bedcovers are of golden silk, the living room carpet is deep blue. The different material surfaces are choreographed so that they move freely from the wall to the floor, from the exterior to the interior, or from the ceiling to wall to furniture. The main materials of the building, glass and concrete, are intertwined with one another, like two dancers, changing places as exterior and interior surfaces. The furniture is partially constructed continuing the architectural surfaces to the right scale and location; for example, the tables are a seamless extension of the concrete surface of the wall in a table’s dimension and height. The cupboards, storage-rooms and shelving of the building are to a large degree also integrated into surfaces bordering the spaces.
The material-spatial construct of the Moebius House offers its visitor a multitude of immediate and rich experiences, that areexist beyond language based systems. There are no meaning projected by the designer but the user is free to produce them himself. The meanings, values and modes of occupation of the Moebius House emerge form the relationship between the user and the materiality of the enviroment, the social relations between the users, their systems of belief and habits. The Moebius House is a multiplicious and rich material construction which holds potential for the emergence of experiences and meanings in the minds of the men who visit it, at least that was the case with me.