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In This Old House, or: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
This Old House

For its new season, PBS's perennial home improvement show, This Old House, takes the task of remodeling its first ever mid-century modern house. In typical TOH fashion, host Kevin O'Connor and his cohorts guide you to every conceivable facet of a total house remodeling project, from the initial client meeting to the post-construction/housewarming party in brutally dense 30-minute episodes. Away from the drawings and AutoCADs and into the trenches. Every trade gets some screen time: architects, landscape architects, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, interior designers, preservationists, suppliers, painters, engineers, etc.

And arborists? Yes, they show you how to cut down a three-story tree safely away from a neighbor's house, though they make it clear that it should only be done by professionals (at quite an astounding price). And historians? Yes, one gives O'Connor a guided tour of Walter Gropius's house in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

In other words, its holistic approach to televised presentation sets it apart from the cluttered world of home improvement shows.

There is even a webcam.

This Old House

Which inevitably leads us to fabricate a new reality show, The Surreal Life: Bungalow Edition, starring a medley of architects, landscape architects, urbanists, artists, academics, and critics. Their task is to redesign a Chicago bungalow house and its gardens in an historic South Chicago neighborhood, and they must do so amidst cramp conditions and formica kitchen flooring. There is just one bathroom and a half.

The gang arrives for introduction, booze, and merriment. Highlight of the episode is the first encounter between Peter Walker and Rem Koolhaas. Peter, blinged out in his recently awarded Jellicoe Medal, the designated Nobel of Landscape Architecture, tries to strike up a conversation with the Pritzker Laureate, but was instantly emasculated: “And you are?” asks Rem. Michael Arad, PW's de facto pussy, tries to salvage the conversation and asks: “So, what does Remment mean?” Koolhaas: “None of your fucking business.” And Arad, as it was in the WTC Memorial Project, is never to be seen or heard from in the series again. Peter the Elder blisters into a tirade: “You know, nobody really believes your Lagos fairy tales.”

The gang moves into the bungalow. Still nursing a massive hangover from last night's bacchanalia, Frank Gehry exclaims: “What this house needs is a little bit of that old time Quaker minimalist sensibility: clear and immediate spatial clarity, but still respectful of its vernacular forms. Straight lines are the new curves.” The Herzog-Meuron agrees: “Yes, but let's change nothing in the kitchen. The laminated floors, red vinyl chairs, formica-topped table, avocado wallpapering, flourescent fixtures — these must all stay.” David L. Hays: “I hate it. I love it.”

But pretty boy Matthew Barney wonders: “What am I doing here?” John Dixon Hunt replies: “Tu ne sais donc point ce que c'est que la matière.” In the corner, delighting in the sight of the former high school football player, Lucy Lippard lets out a mischievous smirk: “Oh yeah, that's what you're here for.”

The gang gets down to business. But it soon becomes apparent that the multidisciplinary, single team format might not be the best thing.

Thom Mayne: “What do you DO exactly?”
Walter Hood: “You know nothing of context!”
Thom Mayne: “You mean, Nicolai Ouroussoff knows nothing of you?”
Walter Hood: “My gardens will engulf de Young.”
Thom Mayne: “We actually discovered landscape.”
Walter Hood: “5 years ago.”

Kathryn Gustafson: “Don't touch my plaster casts!”

A bit later.

Adriaan Geuze: “Tumuli earthforms again?”
Michael van Valkenburgh: “Post-industrial homage again?”
Adriaan Geuze: “Tell me Michael, were you in Groundswell?”

And still a bit later.

Al Gore: “Have you accepted Nature yet?”
Martha Schwartz: “I hate Nature.”
William A. McDonough: “Lacrimosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla judicandus homo reus. Huic ergo parce, Deus.”
Martha Schwartz: “Fuck you!”

At the end of the episode, everyone goes to their corner to lick their wounds.

Zaha Hadid, inexplicably with a flock of chinchillas on leashes, arrives a week late: “'Sup bitches!” Inexplicable as well, she heads straight to the above-ground hot tub, which the owners recently won on The Price is Right, in the backyard, and begins to drown down some mai tais. At the end of the day, she leaves for Dubai to wrestle some projects away from the presently preoccupied Rement. No one notices because of a minor incident earlier.

Agents from Toll Brothers were speculating whether it would be better to simply raze the entire bungalow and plop down in its place a mini McMansion, something Colonial or a Mediterranean-style ranch perhaps. “We could even do the same for every bungalow in the neighborhood.” Upon hearing this, James Howard Kunstler implodes, leaving only a bowtie behind to identify the mangled carcass on the sidewalk as belonging to The Kunstler.

The gang meets with the gang from This Old House. Saskia Sassen pairs off with Kevin O'Connor to inspect the master bedroom. No cameraman was with them, but fortunately, they still had their mics on. And in what will certainly become an instant reality TV classic moment, a “slurp” sound is heard.

The ghosts of designers past come to haunt the bungalow. Borromini heaps praises upon praises on Gehry: “Guggenheim Bilbao. Que bello, la nuova Chiesa di San Carlo.” And Olmsted on Peter Latz: “Duisburg-Nord is the new Central Park.” But not every spectral emanation was as flattering nor even civil. Ian McHarg takes possession of Ken Smith. Frank Lloyd Wright takes on Norman Foster. Many limbs are twisted, contorted; much sushi and Veuve Clicquot vomited. Double exorcism is ordered. Holy water gets splashed. The room starts to quiver. The house heaves. The garden convulses. And then suddenly, everything contracts into a singularity before finally phasing out of the space-time continuum.

This Old House

The following day, Sanford Kwinter arrives as a guest critic: “Architecture-less. Landscape-less. Urban-less. Brilliant!”

Says another guest critic, an untenured journeyman: “No designers. Marvelous!”

This Old House
  • Anonymous
  • October 30, 2005 at 7:54:00 PM CST
  • excellent.

  • Maureen
  • March 9, 2006 at 9:50:00 AM CST
  • I'm chuckling as I write this - love your sense of humor. I've only watched TOH once on a friend's tv, but I get it anyway. yes, that was excellent. probably better than the real thing.

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