How the Bioscleave House Works

Reversible Destiny: Achieving Immortality with Architecture

Feeling the way over the flooring
Feeling the way over the flooring
Photo courtesy Joke Post/Arakawa + Gins

Architecture has always been designed to prolong life, from the bunkers built to protect soldiers to the caves that sheltered the earliest humans from the elements. But in thinking about prolonging life now, scientists are more apt to study how science and computers can help us. We're told to get off the couch to exercise and eat right, but Arakawa and Gins would likely argue that the complacency and familiarity inherent in being a couch potato is the bigger risk. The architecture that we inhabit shapes us, and Arakawa and Gins think they have developed architecture with a far better effect.

When Arakawa met Madeline Gins, he explained that Helen Keller was the ideal way to think about art. Because she was blind and deaf, she had to re-evaluate the world every time she moved, and just learning about language gave her a new world [source: Delville]. This blank slate may be what Arakawa and Gins are trying to create for occupants of their residences. A blankness may imply that no thoughts have already filled the space, thoughts that may lead you to believe that you have to die. And if you have to work really hard within that blankness, as Helen Keller did, you may forget that you have to die. If Helen Keller had known that she didn't have to die, she may have been a prime candidate for immortality.

Helen Keller was much more aware of her surroundings than a person who can see and hear may be, because the latter person takes their surroundings for granted. Arakawa and Gins force even the most able-bodied among us to be a part of our surroundings, to let them change us and mold us. Indeed, the pair sees our surroundings as a vital part of us; they use the term architectural body to refer to both the person and the person's surroundings. This, to them, is the whole. The Bioscleave House draws its name from the way a body holds, or cleaves, to these surroundings.

This bathroom without a door may change your perception of privacy. This bathroom without a door may change your perception of privacy.
This bathroom without a door may change your perception of privacy.
Photo courtesy Joke Post/ Arakawa + Gins

So rather than sitting back and taking in the view from the couch, Arakawa and Gins want you up and climbing over bumpy floors, being thrown off course by an unconventional house. Not only may it have the physical benefit of stimulating the immune system, this process is also reordering your thinking of what a house should be. If architecture is indeed one of our defining relationships to the world, then in turn, we're reordering our theories about how the world should work. We see there's more than one possibility, and more than one way to do things. If you don't have a theory that concludes that you have to die, well, then, maybe you don't. Changing your reality by changing your perception isn't a new idea, as evidenced by countless philosophy tomes and "The Matrix" movies.

Maybe it all sounds a bit kooky, and even some of Arakawa and Gins' friends debate whether the two buy their own lines [source: Bernstein]. It may just be an art project in which the viewer becomes a very large part of the art. Yet their Web site reminds us that it once seemed incomprehensible that humans could fly, and that architecture solved that problem through the design of the airplane.

A neuroscientist at MIT says that as disorienting as the house appears now, it will likely become familiar and counteract the off-putting effect that Arakawa and Gins have tried to develop [source: Simon]. But are there any other examples of the effects of Arakawa and Gins' work? On the next page, we'll take a look at some other reversible destiny projects.