Contemporary Building Strategies


Shelter: Closed and Open

Building materials, energy and water-supply infrastructure, 2018
Shelter: Closed and Open, VISUAL Carlow, Ireland

Shelter: Closed and Open presents a hybrid structure composed of ‘Prishtina House’ (a closed society) and, on top of it, ‘Palafita’, a house on stilts (an open society). The architectural case study ‘Prishtina House’ exemplifies the kind of defence architecture that appeared in Kosovo after the political changes of the 1990s. ‘Palafita’, a house with no walls, is a form of indigenous architecture from Amazonian Brazil. Three wall drawings, made from smaller originals, establish the conceptual framework of the exhibition, creating a bridge between the two architectural case studies and social architecture, the structures formed by society.


Yinchuan: Rural House

Building materials and water-supply infrastructure, 2018
Starting from the Desert - Ecologies on the Edge, MOCA Yinchuan, China

Yinchuan: Rural House is an architectural case study of a rural house in a shrinking village near the fast-growing city of Yinchuan. The village is located in a semi-arid environment near the Yellow River, from which the community draws water for irrigating their rice fields. The traditional local system for supplying water, which is continuously negotiated and renewed each season, offers a good example of sustainable community-based water management. It is also an example of the commons in a paradigm that focuses on private and public property but fails to consider shared property. The main body of the house is constructed with sun-dried bricks that the owner makes herself out of soil and rice stems. For her day-to-day existence, she relies on her immediate surroundings - on nature and people. She depends on her family and the social safety net the community provides. She uses ground water for her vegetable garden, and water from the Yellow River to irrigate her rice field. There is a hand-operated water pump in front of her house. A map of the irrigation system and the rules of the community water management system are written on the back of the house. Yinchuan: Rural House shows us a bottom-up example of a sustainable way of life based on both personal and community resilience.


The House of Social Agreement

Wood, fiber rope, and drawings on wood, 2017
The Social Agreement, FLORA, Bogota, Colombia

The House of Social Agreement is a simple wooden house held together with fiber rope. It takes its inspiration from palafitas, the wooden houses made by the people of Amazonia. The construction bridges the idea of a house as built architecture with the concept of social architecture, i.e. the structure every society creates so that people can live together as a social body. 'The House of Social Agreement' represents the general social agreement, as a principle and way of life, that is found in any society: society exists because people work together. The different parts of the construction have both structural and symbolic value. The vertical columns, for instance, represent the architectural archetype: 'A man is a tree is a column for a house.' The figures drawn on the structure show how the underlying ideas are reflected in human life, such as by signing a peace agreement or fleeing war and natural disasters.


The School of the Forest: Miami Campus

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2015
The School of the Forest: Miami Campus, PAMM Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL

The School of the Forest is an architectural case study of a community center in the Brazilian state of Acre in Amazonia. The concept is based on the Universidade da Floresta (School of the Forest), an initiative launched in Acre in 2005 that brings together knowledge from the region's communities and scientific knowledge, treating both systems of thought on equal terms. The curriculum of the Miami Campus, which was developed in collaboration with the school (r.a.d.), consists of lectures and workshops that look at deforestation in Amazonia as a key issue, while at the same time focusing on parallel concerns that are relevant to South Florida. The broader goal is to construct a conceptual framework for envisioning a sustainable relationship between humanity and nature in the Anthropocene age. Acre's success in reversing deforestation and promoting sustainable development provides a good example. To achieve these aims, the state implemented ambitious policies that support a degrowth economy based on a participatory process and engage local communities in the governance and management of forest resources. When the exhibition closes, the structure will be disassembled and its components distributed to local urban farms, where they will be used in the farms' day-to-day activities.


Caracas: Growing Houses, with a Dry Toilet

Building materials; energy, communications, and water-supply infrastructure, 2013
Artefact 2013: A City Shaped, STUK arts centre, Leuven, Belgium

Caracas: Growing Houses, with a Dry Toilet is an architectural case study that shows the negotiation of space and infrastructure in the informal city of Caracas. Two families living next to each other share space for a business on the ground floor and a dry toilet on the upper floor. Houses are built first, while the infrastructure is dealt with later. Not only space but also energy and water are negotiated by the residents among themselves, as well as between them and the municipal authorities, as they rethink their status as citizens in the greater society.


Soweto House with Prepaid Water Meter

Building materials and water-supply infrastructure, 2012
The inaugural exhibition
The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, MSU Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

In 2006, prepaid water meters were installed in the Soweto township of Phiri in Johannesburg. The residents protested, saying that water is a human right, not a commodity. In 2008, the Johannesburg High Court declared the prepaid water meters unlawful and ordered the city to supply Phiri residents with 50 litres of water per person per day. The case went through two appeals, and in 2009, the Constitutional Court of South Africa found the installation of the prepaid meters to be lawful. The Phiri water case shows us the future that may await other urban communities who as yet do not live under water-stressed conditions. Water is the most precious resource in our century: without water, there is no life.


Caracas: Growing Houses

Building materials, energy, communications, and water-supply infrastructure, 2012
Architektonika 2, Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum of Contemporary Art, Berlin
Hello World: Revisioning a Collection, Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum of Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2018

Caracas: Growing Houses is an architectural case study of two buildings in the informal city of Caracas. It shows the negotiations between the built structure and the infrastructure (energy, communications, and water supply). Unlike the urban culture of the modernist formal city of Caracas, the informal city represents a rural culture, which consists of small, self-built neighbourhoods that form village-like communities. Here, community space prevails over public space, and oral regulations, negotiated through discussion, are more important than written regulations. The rural culture of the Caracas barrios has proved resilient to changes from the outside, particularly from the neighbouring urban culture. The barrio residents prefer to live in a city of communities and not in the modernist city of individualism. Today, around the world, the informal city is one of the two fastest-growing forms of residential organization in cities (the other is the gated community).


Acre: Rural School

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2012
Marjetica Potrc, Nicolas Krupp Contemporary Art, Basel

Acre: Rural School is a case study of a school built in the forest in the Brazilian state of Acre in Amazonia. The roofed open structure is a typical building typology of the region that existed long before colonial architecture introduced walls. The school is equipped with solar panels on top of the chicken coop and a satellite dish. Local residents call such a school a 'power kit', meaning that it is a source of knowledge, communication, and electrical power. After school hours, the building becomes a community center, so the whole village benefits from it. Acre: Rural School represents an example of an inspiring collaboration between the Acre state government (which provides the technology) and the people who live on extraction reserves (self-managed sustainable territories).


Ramot Polin Unit with Sukkah

Building material and water-supply infrastructure, 2011
In a New Land, Gallerie Nordenhake, Berlin

Ramot Polin Unit with Sukkah is an architectural case study from Israel that combines the pentagonal architecture (by the architect Zvi Hecker) of the Ramot Polin housing development in Jerusalem with a sukkah, a temporary shelter used for the Jewish festival of Sukkoth. The experimental modernist architecture of Ramot Polin was built in 1970s as a social housing project by the Israeli state; it was part of the expansion of Jerusalem into land gained after the Six-Day War of 1967. The residents of Ramot Polin are Orthodox Jews, who over the years have added rectangular extensions on to the facades - in most cases sukkahs - which have substantially transformed the look of the neighbourhood. Perched on the pentagonal facades, they convey a dual message that illustrates the internal divide in Israeli society between secular and religious Jews. On the one hand, by 'balkanizing' modernist architecture, the sukkahs are an implied critique of the modern lifestyle; on the other, as intentionally temporary shelters, or tabernacles, they reaffirm the nomadic spirit of the settlers.


Primitive Hut

Tree trunks, building materials, infrastructure for energy, communications, and water, 2010
Venice Case Study, Meulensteen Gallery, New York, NY

Primitive Hut reminds us of certain basic human needs - for shelter, water, and communication - while offering a 21st-century reinterpretation of Abbé Laugier's famous 18th-century "primitive hut". A drawing of this primitive hut first appeared as the frontispiece for Laugier's Essay on Architecture (1755). A response to Vitruvius' theory of architecture, the essay presented ideas about basic forms of shelter and architectural archetypes: A man is a tree is a column for a house. The main elements of the Primitive Hut are four tree trunks, a simple roof, and a large water tank that captures rainwater from the roof. Other simple infrastructural solutions are seen in the flexible solar panels, which provide energy, and the antenna, which represents communication with the outside world.


Tirana House

Building materials; energy, communications, and water-supply infrastructure, 2009
New Citizenships Lingen Kunstalle, Lingen, Germany
Insiders: practices, uses, know-how, Arc en Rêve Centre d'Architecture, Bordeaux, France, 2009

Tirana House is a case study of a family house in present-day Tirana, Albania. After the political changes of the 1990s, the Tirana cityscape exploded. A new city built by the citizens themselves celebrates a multiplicity of personal architectural styles, astonishing constructions, and richly decorated facades. Here, patterns turn the facades into a living surface, the skin and shield of the building. As former Mayor Edi Rama said: 'Facades are not like a dress or lipstick. They are organs.' Patterns and numerous staircases merge in an Escher-like landscape, expressing the many voices that make a new democracy. In a city in transition, the building facades give visual expression to the construction of a new social contract, a new citizenship.


Burning Man: Tensegrity Structure and Waterman

Building materials and energy infrastructure
Fantastic Politics, Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, 2006
Art Berlin Contemporary, Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin, 2008
Burning Man: Tensegrity Structure and Waterman, Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm, 2010
'Food, Shelter, Clothing: Art and Need', Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Louisville, KY, USA, 2015

This tensegrity structure, based on a design first developed by Buckminster Fuller and Kenneth Snelson, is made from long wooden poles and cord; its stability is solely the result of tensegrity, the balance of push and pull. The shelter is upgraded with self-sustainable technologies, such as a solar canopy and a wind turbine, which power the water pump that serves the Waterman. By combining strategies for both leisure and subsistence, participants in Burning Man practice survival strategies through play.


New Orleans: Shotgun House with Rainwater-Harvesting Tank

Building materials, energy, communications and water-supply infrastructure, 2008
Future Talk: The Great Republic of New Orleans. Max Protetch Gallery, New York
Heartland, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2008
Strange and Close, Roots, Evento 2011, Arc en Rêve Centre d'Architecture, Bordeaux, France, 2011

Shotgun House with Rainwater-Harvesting Tank points to two recent trends in New Orleans: the revival of the local architectural style known as the Shotgun House, and the move toward self-sustainability. Both are post-Katrina developments and correspond with the deconstruction of modernist architecture and the search for a new, 21st-century social contract for democracy. Local harvesting of energy resources points to the emergence of new environmental and, consequently, political boundaries. The two caryatids serve as reminders that New Orleans is being rebuilt by its citizens.


Forest Rising

Tree trunks, building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2007
Forest Rising, The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, London

A rural school, equipped with satellite dish and solar panels, stands on an island elevated by tree trunks. Visitors walk beneath a satellite, the elevated island and a helicopter platform. The project is based on practices developed by Amazonian communities in Brazil in response to the most pressing social, economic and environmental concerns of the 21st century. Their ideas for the future include the development of small-scale economies, a new citizenship, the University of the Forest, the protection of knowledge, the protection of territories, and global connectivity.


Rural Studio: The Lucy House Tornado Shelter

Building materials and communications infrastructure, 2007
Rural Studio: The Lucy House Tornado Shelter, Nordenhake Gallery, Berlin

The Lucy House, designed by architect Samuel Mockbee and his students in the Rural Studio Outreach Program and constructed in 2002, combines residential architecture with emergency architecture. Home to Anderson and Lucy Harris and their three children, the house includes a built-in tornado shelter, on top of which a bedroom sits inside the "crumpled" tensegrity dome. This tornado shelter is also used by the Harrises as a meditation room and family/TV room.


Xapuri: Rural School

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2006
How to Live Together, 27th São Paulo Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil

This is a case study of a primary school that has been built in a remote area of the Amazonian forest in the Brazilian state of Acre. The construction of such schools represents a collaboration between local communities and the government. Typically, a school is equipped with extensive solar paneling and a satellite dish, in other words, a source of energy and the means for communication with the world.


Prishtina House

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2006
Marjetica Potrc and Tomas Saraceno: Personal States / Infinite Actives Portikus, Frankfurt/Main, Germany
This Place is My Place - begehrte Orte, Kustverien in Hamburg, Hamburg, 2007
Living: Frontiers of Architecture III, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2011.

The architectural case study Prishtina House exemplifies the kind of defence architecture that appeared in Kosovo after the political changes of the 1990s. After the collapse of modernism, the citizens of Prishtina began building their houses in a wide range of styles, each expressing the taste of the owner. Prishtina House is an example of personal orientalism. Personal styles are the expression of a fragmented society. In Prishtina, the citizens have become the smallest state. Self-sustainability is also an issue, since citizens have to rely on their own resources: a generator powers the streetlight.


Permanently Unfinished House with Cell Phone Tree

Building materials and communications infrastructure, 2006
Revisiting Home, NGBK Neue Gesellschaft fuer bildende Kunst, Berlin
Permanently Unfinished House with Cell Phone Tree Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg, Austria

The structure points to how 'nature' is represented in contemporary urban culture. The focus is on the communications infrastructure. The tree on the right is actually a form of infrastructure concealment -- a hi-tech cell tree made of steel and plastic. The three columns on the house are painted to look like tree trunks, alluding to the origins of architecture in an archetype that equates tree trunks with columns. Another reference to 'nature' are the steel rods protruding from the top of the walls, a typical feature of 'growing houses' in informal cities, which account for half of the world's fastest-growing metropolises. The house remains unfinished, so the owners can avoid paying taxes.


Islands: Urban Villa and Urban Village

Building materials, energy infrastructure, and 3-channel video, 2005
In collaboration with Kyong Park
M City, European Cityscapes, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria

Urban Villa is a hybrid case study that combines an urban villa from Ljubljana (the Salamander House by Sadar Vuga Architects) with one from Haverleij, a cluster of urban villages in the Netherlands. It presents a small residential unit equipped with an owner-operated self-sustainable infrastructure. Urban villas and urban villages are new architectural typologies that emerged in the European Union after the decline of modernist architecture and the modernist state. Here, in comparison with the modernist model, the ideal residential complex represents a dramatic reduction in the number of people who live together: urban villas shrink the desired residential community to only ten families or so, while urban villages offer small urban enclaves in place of the metropolis envisioned by modernism. Small-scale residential typologies work well with a self-managed infrastructure for energy and water, which expresses a concern for the environment and residents' desire to control their own consumption of natural resources.


Ljubljana under a Common Roof

Building materials and energy infrastructure, 2004
Urban Growings, De Appel Foundation for Contemporary Art, Amsterdam

This is a case study based on a proposal made by architect Josef Plecnik for the city of Ljubljana in 1944. The city builds a roof and provides the infrastructure for a neighborhood. Residents build houses beneath the common roof. A similar concept may be seen in present-day Johannesburg (although on a different scale). Here, a roof and essential infrastructure are provided to individual families, but not to the whole community.


Hybrid House: Caracas, West Bank, West Palm Beach

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2003 - 2004
Urgent Architecture, PBICA, Lake Worth, FL, 2003
Urgent Architecture, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, 2004

Hybrid House juxtaposes structures from the temporary architecture of Caracas, the West Bank, and West Palm Beach, Florida, and shows how they negotiate space among themselves. Each of the community-based structures formulates its own language, which, in all three cases, has much in common with archetypal (and not modernist) architecture. Emphasis is placed on private space, security, and energy and communication infrastructures.


Summer House

Building materials and energy infrastructure, 2004
Summer House, Balkan Trilogy: Part3, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany

A summer house has been installed inside an industrial construction, namely, a water tower. This is a case study of Paul Rudolph's Walker Guest House, an early modernist building that uses counterweights to raise and lower the walls.


Next Stop, Kiosk

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2003
Next Stop, Kiosk, Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, Slovenia

A palafita -- a South American house on stilts (sometimes called "a walking house") - is balanced on top of a group of intersecting city kiosks. The K-67 kiosk was originally designed in the late 1960s as a mobile dwelling unit by the Ljubljana-based architect Sasa Maechtig.


Caracas: House with Extended Territory

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2003-2004
Caracas: House with Extended Territory, Nordenhake Gallery, Berlin, 2003
Caracas: House with Extended Territory, De Appel Foundation for Contemporary Art, Amsterdam, 2004

The social state never really materialized in Caracas. Half the population lives in the informal city in houses constructed without legal title or building permits. Space is creatively negotiated and appropriated. To claim greater space, an additional facade may be built in front of the existing building. Greek columns underline the appropriation of space, too. They represent a human presence on the site.


Caracas: Dry Toilet (Eight Variations)

Building materials and sanitation infrastructure, 2003-2014
Borne of Necessity, The Weatherspoon Art Museum, UNC, Greensboro, NC, 2004
Caracas: Dry Toilet, Nordenhake Gallery, Stockholm, 2004
Urgent Architecture, PBICA, Lake Worth, FL, 2003; traveled to MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, 2004
Farsites: Urban Crisis and Domestic Symptoms in Recent Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA, 2005
New Citizenships, Lingen Kunsthalle, Lingen, Germany, 2009
Caracas: Dry Toilet, Diew Ecke, Santiago de Chile, Chile, 2012
Artefact 2013: A City Shaped, STUK arts centre, Leuven, Belgium, 2013
Magapolis, ERES foundation, Munich, Germany, 2014

This is a case study of a dry toilet built in the La Vega barrio of Caracas in 2003. Because the dry toilet does not need water to operate, it radically reduces the amount of water used by residents while providing a long-term sustainable solution for the problem of wastewater.


Caracas: Growing House

Building materials and energy infrastructure, 2003
GNS, Palais de Tokyo, Paris

In Caracas, half of the city's population resides in the informal city in structures that are perceived as rural, not urban architecture. Called 'growing houses,' nearly every barrio dwelling has iron wires sprouting from its rooftop, as if proclaiming the vitality of the place. Anything may be recycled as building material for these houses.


El Retiro: A Roundhouse

Building materials, 2003
Somewhere Better than this Place, CAC, Cincinnati, OH

This is a case study of a roundhouse, a residential unit constructed for earthquake victims in El Retiro, El Salvador. A roundhouse can be built by as few as two people in approximately ten hours or less, and no previous knowledge of house construction is needed. Such houses can even withstand a small-scale hurricane.


Leidsche Rijn House

Building materials, communication and energy infrastructure, 2003
'The Pursuit of Happiness', Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Leidsche Rijn, the biggest residential development currently in the Netherlands, is a showcase of creative solutions at a time when the social state is in decline. Many of these solutions emphasize private concerns and self-reliance. Wadis, the green areas between buildings, harvest rainwater, and a twin water system is used throughout the whole area. Contemporary urban nomads and Travelers reside next to each other.


Rural Studio: Butterfly House

Building materials, 2002
Designs for the Real World, "Generali Foundation, Vienna

Rural Studio is an outreach program for architecture students at Auburn University, who work with the residents of Hale County in rural Alabama to design highly personalized dwellings. Construction materials are devised from whatever is at hand in the area and usually include recycled or often overlooked objects. The Butterfly House makes use of natural ventilation, and its roof harvests rainwater, thus making a statement in self-sustainable architecture.


Hybrid: Burning Man and Barefoot College

Building materials, energy infrastructure, 2002
Housing, Westfaelischer Kunstverein, Muenster, Germany

Considered a utopian structure in the 1960s, Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome now occupies a place in everyday life across the globe. Its quick and easy construction, often using recycled industrial materials, satisfies the need for shelter and makes it the best choice for relief housing for both Burning Man and Barefoot builders.


Duncan Village Core Unit

Building materials, energy and communication infrastructure, 2002 - 2003
Through a Sequence of Space, Nordenhake Gallery, Berlin, 2002

PARA > SITES: Who is moving the global city?, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, 2003
Art Unlimited,Art Fair Basel, Basel, Switzerland, 2003
Urban Strategies, Galerie Museum Ar/ge Kunst, Bolzano, Italy, 2003
1st Lodz Biennial, Lodz, Poland, 2004

Case study of a service core unit in Duncan Village, East London, South Africa. Service core units are an example of collaboration between urban planners and settlers, the formal and informal city. The energy infrastructure and the question of shelter are dealt with separately. The city offers utility services, specifically, potable water, energy and sewage, and the new residents build their own homes. Until very recently, social housing did not exist in South Africa.


Barefoot College: A House

Building materials, energy infrastructure, 2002
Max Protetch Gallery, New York, NY

The structure is based on houses created by untrained architects for Barefoot College in Tilonia, India. Equipped with solar panels and able to harvest water, these houses make it possible for the settlement to generate its own energy. This combination of local knowledge, high technology, and the principle of self-sufficiency has won the Barefoot Architects international recognition.


Kagiso: Skeleton House

Building materials, communication and energy infrastructure, 2001
Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

This is an example of a core unit from Kagiso, a suburb of Johannesburg. The city provides a simple structure: a roof on stilts and connections to the sewage and water system. Individual owners build their homes within this framework. According to a New York Times story, one future owner moved his shack to the site of this skeleton house so he could guard his new toilet.


East Wahdat: Upgrading Program (Seven variations)

Building materials, energy infrastructure 1999 - 2003
50 Years of Central European Art, Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, 1999
East Wahdat: Upgrading Program, Centre Gallery, Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, 2000
The Sheltering Connection, Allen Memorial Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, 2001
The Pursuit of Happiness, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, 2003
Xtreme Houses, Halle 14, Leipzig, 2004; traveled to Kunstraum Lothringen 13, Munich, 2004
The Second Explosion: The 1990s, National Museum Metelkova, Ljubljana, 2016
Between Spaces, ZKR Center for Art and Public Space, Berlin, 2017

About 25 percent of the Greater Amman population lives in unregulated settlements. Rather than raze the shantytowns, the Urban Development Department decided not to evict the occupants. City authorities provided road access, electricity and core units with water and a sewage system. With the help of neighbors, residents moved their existing shanty structures to a corner of the plot as a temporary shelter. Once the first room of the new house was built in the vacant space, the residents moved in, pulling down the original shanty.


The Core Unit

Building materials, energy infrastructure, 1997
Skulptur. Projekte in Münster, Landesmuseum Münster, Münster, Germany

In Honduras, core units are a part of the suburban housing program. The building provided by municipial authorities is equipped with electricity, running water and a toilet. People add rooms as their finances and building skills permit.