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Houses or Hotels

In MONOPOLY you receive money when other people land on your property. You get more if there’s a house, even more if there’s more houses, and even more still if there’s a hotel. The appearance of hotels on the board usually means the beginning of the end of the game.  

Not too long ago, a New York apartment sold for $16M. The purchaser intends to live in it.

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About the same time, an apartment much the same in a building much the same was purchased by someone with connections to Greek shipping, as it happens. That person is going to rent it out at at $120,000 per month. It’s New York’s most expensive rental.

New York’s most expensive hotel room is the Ty Warner Penthouse Suite at the Four Seasons New York – a collaboration between I.M.Pei and Frank Williams. It’s $50,000 per night. MONOPOLY™ embodies much truth about the world.

With any building, it’s always good to ask what problem it solves. In these three instances the problem is how to extract money from people who have too much of it. In passing, wealthy Saudis like two kitchens – the “dirty” kitchen is used for all the heavy lifting such as the roasting of lamb. Saudi kitchen arrangements are now known as “chef’s kitchens” and I’ll wager they have superlative kitchen exhaust specifications.

We like to think architecture is inhabited by the people who purchase it but those people are rarely the same as those who pay for it. Perhaps looking at apartments designed to be purchased by persons of ultra-high net worth is the wrong end at which to start.

• • •

Tiny houses are going all directions at once. One direction is fulfilling a real social need in an unconventional way by taking a hard look at what buildings provide and providing no more space than absolutely necessary. The term Tiny Houses already miscasts the intention as being to shrink a house when the real intention is to provide a minimum amount of living space. At least the word house remains. These tiny houses are tiny homes for real-sized people.

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It’s a useful idea. In Oregon, US, there’s this place called Dignity Village that consists of small dwellings and houses about 60 people. These homes have one room in which to sleep and be protected and sheltered. Everything else is shared.

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It’s the opposite of co-living as living space remains unshared but, as a system, it works. Having a group of people in the same situation and willing to help each other is a good definition of a functioning community, and not a representation of one. Dignity Village has a system of rules that amount to a legal system. There’s a system of compensation that amounts to a monetary system. Dignity Village and other villages like it are societies in miniature and in some ways superior ones. Building materials are recycled along with everything else that can be. People live with no more than they need and share what they don’t need to have for themselves. There’s built-in resilience. They’re our very own flavoursome favelas in all their site-specific, resource-aware functioning community and anti-architecture glory.

Tim Murphy is the person who can tell you more Dignity Village and similar projects than I can. Communitecture are doing good work in extending and applying the concept while keeping it true to the problem it exists to solve.

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The only way municipalities can legally comprehend these developments is to designate them transitional housing campgrounds but these tiny homes aren’t trailers or caravans on wheels. The idea is to be permanent and stable, not temporary and transient.

Tiny house hotel (.com) caters to the monied transient, offering tiny houses as hotel rooms. A central campfire and evening performances provide communal experience in the form of shared entertainment rather than community endeavour. The idea of Dignity Village as homes is monetised as a hotel of tiny houses. That didn’t take long.

Upmarket hotel variations have followed with more architecture and less sharing. These are rental holiday cabins.

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The client for SANAA’s Moriyama houses, Mr Moriyama, currently lives in one of them and rents the others. These are conventionally rented properties despite the shared bathroom in the space between the buildings.

Tiny houses are not pretend houses. They are not hotel rooms. And they are not vacation dwellings for people wanting a tiny cabin in the woods, or the illusion of one.

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There’s little need for architects to come along and complete the process of neutering this useful idea of tiny houses by assimilating it into architectureAs if to drive a stake through the heart of the tiny house movement, Renzo Piano‘s tiny house Diogene designed for Vitra’s petting zoo couldn’t be more of a piece of statement architecture if it tried.

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At $45,000 or $75,000 with added PVs, Diogene – Diogenes wept! – will have quite the payback time but in the meantime it solves the problem of us not hearing enough about Renzo Piano. It also lessens the danger of tiny houses offering a model for living that sidelines architects.

There’s also the tiny house movement, also known as the “small house movement”, which refers to people choosing to living simply in small homes. This too is a noble endeavour if it is the only dwelling a person is to own. The legal framework is hazy but it too is an architectural genre showing solid growth.

These downscaled houses with kitchen facilities and bathrooms tend to be photographed in picturesque landscapes as if to suggest they go on your spare land in the countryside. Or in your backyard.

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These days backyard means airbnb and, oh – here’s one, available by the day.

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This all works to subvert the point of tiny homes as a useful social phenomenon – it’s supposed to be your main dwelling, not an opportunity for money on the side. It’s another growth industry. Tiny houses are replaced with the idea of a miniaturized home, a kind of architectural Shetland pony you might pay for a novel and fun one-off experience but you’d prefer something more solid for the long haul.

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In the end, it’s people monetising their backyards.

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Loving that bamboo but if ever I find myself in Portland I’ll check out Gary’s other property. It’s a shed.

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What Gary is doing is monetising an asset just like Greek shipping dude is doing with his Park Avenue penthouse. It used to be architects added value to land by having some part in building on it but Gary has done it without architecture or architects. It’s time to pay attention! In a further development, he could pay campers to mow the grass and take all the money back in rent, thus hastening society’s regression to total feudalism. Meanwhile, as far as the exploitation of indoor space goes, the ultimate nadir quickly becomes the penultimate nadir.

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Society’s shyness about strangers sharing bedroom space is beginning to break down. At this rate, hot bunking will become classy sometime around November.

• • •

Like the canary in the mine, trends in hotel space have always been a good precursor to trends in living space. Apartments have become the size of 1920s New York hotel rooms, and with varying degrees of communal and shared amenities and services attached. When hotels start offering ‘day use’ rates for a few hours occupancy, we can expect the same to happen to rented living space not too far down the line.

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Because this news comes from Paris, people are quick to make associations with daytime assignations and Japanese ‘love hotels’ that have been a phenomena for, oh, at least forty years. Both are responses to the pressures on living space at home. In Japan they don’t want to wake the kids. In Paris they don’t want to alert the spouse. In Italian towns, groups of men timeshare rented apartments so as to not alert their parents. These are all examples of social needs not met by living space, being taken on by short-term or hourly rentals. The day-use trend in hotel room usage is said to result from the hotels losing trade to airb’n’b so it’s a case of an upper level tenure system fighting to retain value against a lower level tenure system.

Architecture has a similar problem. Nothing can be taken away from the people of Dignity Village but the rest of us can still be dissuaded from doing it for ourselves and having functioning and sustainable communities as a result. We’re being gently but forcefully dissuaded from getting to enthusiastic about co-living. In New York and London the image has quickly degenerated into glorified yet cheaper hotel accommodation for new urban students or employees. It may still contain a hint of people in a shared situation but the only thing they have in common is thinking about when they will move on from it. Conventional architectural typologies with a conventional system of tenure challenge nothing and change nothing.

Glimmers of hope come from Switzerland. Have a look at this plan by Duplex Architekten of Zurich.

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It’s known as DIALOGWEG 6 and is part of a much larger development.

It’s designed for people who want to live like this. What I like about it is that it wouldn’t make a very profitable hotel. What I really admire is that people are still trying to get co-living right and aren’t just putting some funky furniture and photogenic people into a tarted up hotel and calling it the next new thing. Here’s another example called Baugenossenschaft Kraftwerk 1 Heizenholz  by Adrian Streich Architekten. Bedrooms and bathrooms are private but everything else can be shared.

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What I like about this is the differing degrees of separation and the different layers of sharing. Rooms share living spaces but the living spaces share a terrace with other living spaces on the same floor and, via that, with living areas throughout the building. This adds a social amenity simply not possible with conventional apartment and hotel typologies.

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The Swiss seem to have already sorted out how to live in new buildings such as these.  United by poverty, the people of Dignity Village worked it out in one. Lacking any natural sense of community, the rest of us will have to ease into it. In Britain, I can imagine buildings like these occupied first by single parent workers and their kids who have a lot to gain individually, collectively and emotionally by living close and helping each other out. It becomes a viable way of living to buy into long-term. Maybe not for everybody, but it should be an option available for the people who just might be able to make it work and show the rest of us how to do it.

 

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• • •

A big thank you to misfits’ man in Zurich, Marco Jacomella of Hosoya Schaefer Architects for alerting me to these and other current Swiss developments you won’t find in the usual architectural publicity machines. Swiss architects don’t generally go in for that kind of cheap publicity and the chasing of fame. If Swiss architecture sometimes seems underwhelming it’s because the buildings have been designed as buildings for people and not as diverting content or as promotional vehicles to  further a brand.

If so, the whole country is made up of architecture misfits. 

The architecture of Herzog & de Meuron and Peter Zumthor then becomes mere mainstream New Media Globalism, no more Swiss than it is architecture. Our narrow focus on isolated projects with identical global intent makes us blind to regional pockets of universal intelligence. Thanks again, Marco.

3 thoughts on “Houses or Hotels

  1. Karen McKay

    Yeah, finally the tiny house movement has made it to your blog! Hmmm, the airbnb is a very commercial variation on the old granny flat in the backyard. How societal mores and economics have changed.

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    Reply

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