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This House Turns and Returns, Too
Many things tend to remind us of many other things. For instance, the image of King Alfonso XVII's architecturally riotous bathing machine moving back and forth, in imitation of the often hypnotic ebb and flow of the tides, slowly, languorously as one would expect to be when holidaying at the beach, instantly called to mind two projects by the Dutch artist-architect John Körmeling.

The first is The Rotating House.

John Körmeling

The full scale, freestanding structure rotates on rails embedded on a grassy roundabout in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Powered by solar panels, it completes one revolution every 20 hours, its constantly shifting position supposed to evoke a “feeling of alienation from reality.” Front and back gardens were proposed for this permanent art installation but are not yet evident in photographs.

As a public sculpture, the house isn't meant to be inhabited, which begs the obvious question: why not? Perhaps if we wait long enough for the global economic crisis to make vagabond of so many there, we will see it unintentionally colonized.

Moving on to the second: Happy Street.

John Körmeling

At first it looks like a proposal for a dense housing project on stilts, wherein residential units flank a roadway curlicued like a roller coaster. Indeed, a photo of a scale model early in its construction (or is it a finished maquette?) shows the street looking like the specialized railway tracks of amusement rides.

John Körmeling

We like to think that Körmeling wants to embed a set of rails into the asphalt to facilitate conveyance, because he envisions the units being repositioned, like a certain bathing machine, into a different arrangement every 20 hours. And if his plans become a logistical nightmare, they will remain as infrastructural decoration like half-buried, half-remembered trolley tracks of yesteryear, experienced bumpily by commuters daily.

But perhaps one could more accurately describe Easy Street as a modular city neighborhood of more heterogeneous land uses — sleek condominiums, traditional canal houses, supermarkets, dry cleaners and cultural amenities: a re-interpretation of the cul-de-sac. Dendritic urban planning replaced with multi-dimensional knot topology.

In either case, it's an expected though reasonable urban strategy for a flood prone country with limited space to grow.

John Körmeling

Further research online, however, tells us that neither is the case. It is actually the winning concept for the Pavilion of the Netherlands at Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Bas Haring explains the concept thus:

As the world becomes ever more efficient, it demands more straight streets and rectangular buildings. The fact that the world is becoming more efficient is also eminently logical; efficiency trumps inefficiency. Inefficiency disappears and efficiency endures, and the yet more efficient will in turn also remain. Logical. But is it pleasing? Who is made happy by the efficient, the linear, the rectangular? That is the question Happy Street seems to be posing.

In truth, the linear is somewhat dull. Every straight line looks like every other. Draw a line from one corner of the paper to the other and it is exactly as straight as every other straight line. All things considered there is only one kind of straight line and that is a straight one. Unlike crooked lines. There are millions of kinds of those. Draw a crooked line on the paper, from one corner to the other, or any which way. Odds are that exactly the same crooked line has never been drawn before.

We are like the crooked line: whimsical and unique. Happy Street stands up for the human aspect. For the less efficient. For us.

This is typically Dutch.

So is this, then, a distillation of Dutch landscape and architecture design? “Organized, calculated, efficient, but with room for individuality and whimsicality”?

John Körmeling

After working so hard expressing an entire nation's vision of itself, one hopes that the whole structure could be carted away and reused elsewhere instead of rotting on the expo grounds like one of its predecessors. And since we do have a fair amount of interest on coastal development, we propose that it be reassembled on a barrier islands on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and that all units are detached and fastened with wheels.

Better yet, manufacture hundreds of these steel and concrete superstructures and then scatter them along the Atlantic coast from Maine all the way down to the Florida Keys. Instant City.


And each one would support a community of permanent residents or a nomadic population of weekenders, tourists, summer residents, retirees, and seasonal workers who all come, leave and return again. One could take on the character of a quaint hamlet by the sea or SoHo or an ultra-exclusive seaside resort.

Should you bore of Cape Cod, simply sell your lot space and drive your Dutch-designed cottage or shipping-container-turned-winnebagos or a King Alfonso XIII® off to the Carolinas.

Should your sushi restaurant outlive its novelty among the populace or should there no longer be a great demand for avante-garde films at your cinémathèque, again, just relocate your entire unit to a new settlement.

It's trailer park meets Smout Allen in an interspecies tryst between the vernacular and architecture school academe. In the salty, frothy, heaving surf, genetic materials are exchanged to concoct a deformed Archigram city.

John Körmeling

“A century ago,” we read in Against the Tide by Cornelia Dean, “it was easy to abandon coastal land.” What few buildings constructed by the ocean included movable cabins that could be jacked up, rolled on logs and shipped to the mainland on barges; cheap shelters like shacks for shipwrecked mariners that wouldn't be a devastating loss if destroyed; and “informal oceanfront 'camps'”. And then there's Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House, who considered his knapsack as “the only ever-ready wagon of the dunes.” In other words, you could easily retreat to avoid harm's way.

Now, “as coastal land grows in value, beach houses are becoming more and more elaborate. The small dune-sheltered cottage of fifty years ago is a thing of the past. Today new-built houses have four, five, or six bedrooms, each with its own bath, and are equipped with every sort of luxury. Some of these new houses are permanent residences, or second homes. But many are rental properties, which must be lavishly equipped if they are to command the high rents their amortization requires. Vacationers who once came to the beach to enjoy sea breezes now demand air conditioning and cable television.” As Dean eventually summarizes, “rather than retreat from the beach, Americans are digging in,” even after hurricanes after hurricanes have unraveled countless coastal communities into piles of driftwood.

On Happy Street, Florida, meanwhile, everybody can decamp their luxurious, six-bedroom LOT-EK units at a moment's notice and take shelter on Happy Street, South Carolina. Though the landscape will be battered or even dramatically recontoured, you know you will be able to very quickly return your city-on-wheels to your city-on-stilts.

Coastal Retreat


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