Architects Arakawa and Gins were originally commissioned in the late 1990s to build a small add-on to an existing home in East Hampton, N.Y., that would explore the themes of reversible destiny. The homeowner abandoned the project when costs rose dramatically, but the project was saved by a group of professors who provided the financing to buy the house from its owner and complete the project. It cost more than $2 million to build, even with Arakawa and Gins persuading companies to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars of labor and products [source: Bernstein].
What does $2 million buy you, besides immortality? On first look at the house, it appears it would buy you a lot of paint. Both the exterior and the interior are splashed with vibrant colors with names like pink popsicle, tricycle red and traffic light green. About 40 colors are in the house altogether.
The home contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a study. That might sound conventional, but the kitchen is sunken into the center of the house. Bumpy flooring rises around the kitchen in undulating waves. Around the funky flooring are the other rooms, but they lack some of the traditional comforts of home you might expect. For one, none of the rooms have doors, not even the bathroom. Good luck trying to plug in a nightlight, because the outlets are scattered at odd angles. And if you'd hoped for a room with a view to spend immortality, better get used to the windows that are at unconventional heights.
Those windows have one important effect that starts to get at the heart of what Arakawa and Gins are trying to accomplish. Because they're either very high or low, you can't establish where the horizon is. You don't know what's level and what's not. The roof is not always a fixed distance from the floor. You can't use your normal ways of getting around, which you may not even have to think about at this point; tools like depth perception and distance don't apply.
Arakawa and Gins claim that losing balance and using your body in surprising ways to maintain equilibrium will stimulate the immune system, which will eventually stop aging and death [source: Bernstein]. But there's a mental component as well. Think about a room that has levels that make you feel like you're two places at once. That violates your idea of what a room should be, and by changing your idea of how architecture should work, you may be changing your ideas about how life should work. A rejection of traditional architecture may bring a rejection of traditional norms that include death, if Arakawa and Gins are to be believed.
No one lived in the home as of April 2008, and it's unknown what the financiers of the project have planned. If the rest of us continue the normal march to death, we may never know if an occupant attains immortality. But how do Arakawa and Gins see this house working, in theory? Find out how this house is supposed to prevent death on the next page.