Two almost identical houses
In 1922 I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory’s color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper, divided into squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the
correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence.) One of the pictures was delivered in three different sizes, so that I could study the subtle differences in the color relations caused by the enlargement and reduction.
Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, in The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, p. 79
On the Stairs, 1
Yes, it could begin this way, right here, just like that, in a rather slow and ponderous way, in this neutral place that belongs to all and to none, where people pass by almost without seeing each other, where the life of the building regularly and distantly resounds.
Georges Perec, in Life A User’s Manual, p. 19
I have never seen Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s telephone pictures, or gone through all the potential literature of Perec’s novels, interlocking like pieces of a puzzle at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, but I cannot extricate myself from their transformative intensity, from the work before the work that is already part of the work, from that
form defined even before it takes shape, from that almost doing that is actual doing. Of these two almost identical houses by Carlos Nogueira I have seen the material of one and the project of the other. The ‘almost’ bringing them together shares in the nature of those things found in descriptions, constraints and
absences, moving towards the edge of architecture.
By saying long house with tree, or long house with light, naming becomes projecting, and the gesture is more than name, title or description. Projecting by naming goes beyond the use of a name that existed before being called into the mind — it is ingraining something with a name and inventing it by naming it; it is
almost like “marrying the house”. And the title, what comes after projecting a name, is specific but shared; both houses are almost identical, they are both long. But the adjective does not belong to the houses, nor does it explain them, as it only organises our position before them, telling us that the front of the house is
its length and not its width, which would otherwise turn them into short houses. The title projects inversely, around the houses. The last gesture in this act of projecting/naming is description, ascribing an attribute that domesticates, the description of a signified that builds the object as house. Either with tree or with light,
these houses are almost identical to others, or their project succeeds in producing an intersection between these and other houses, thus allowing us to inhabit these ones by way of what we know about the others.
We may inhabit these almost identical houses by asking the same questions we ask of ordinary houses:
what are they like? what is their shape? what are their boundaries? what are they made or built of? where is inside and outside? what type of energy do they use? when do they live? where are they? what romances do they enclose? what absences do they conceal? what light is shed on them? how does the reflection of one on the other substantiate, support and inhabit them? Because the meeting place, the place «where people pass by almost without seeing each other, where the life of the building regularly and distantly resounds» is equally absent in both houses.
Light is the matter of one of the houses, or better, light is what cancels out the house ́s matter and seemingly makes it hover. When matter is permanent, as it is in the house around the tree, light is cyclical, but the light of the temporary house is permanent, as the work is completed through lighting. It is a piece with no sunset, only existing when lighted; it is a house with a switch, literally made to be switched on and off. Uninterrupted light, let us not forget, is the most human type of light, as it is the energy that we make travel through wires.
The permanently lighted house is temporary, the cyclically lighted one is permanent... They are almost identical. The shape is the same: they are both long. Their sizes are the same too, but these similarities are made of completely different materials and times. One was cast, the other one was built. The house around
the tree was cast on the liquid stone that used to fascinate druidic architects, who worshiped a combinatorial material that suddenly crystallises into its shell’s negative. Among the trees, the concrete outline chooses between the domesticating tree and the one that provides shade over the house. It is a thin line,
carefully placed far from the tree roots. But such delicate shape was poured into a mould, a formwork, a temporary structure that inhabited the inside and outside of this house even before the house existed. The tiny windows on the walls are all that is left of the large negative, of that other structure which, like photogra-
phy, develops the house. Photographs are developed and fixed, concrete is cured, it sets and hardens, but, like all modern age processes, this transformation is an instantaneous revelation, suddenly new and everlasting. The other house was built of a manufactured material, previously extracted, refined, molten,
industrialised, in order to be assembled in the shape of a house with light. Like the house itself, this material is temporary, it is found in this shape and this place for a period of time. The temporary house is made of a fused material that may be reconfigured, making its form disappear from one place and appear in another,
in an endless, almost wasteless transformation. Its shape, like its lighting, is meant to be interrupted. Its colour has no shades and the sun’s cycles leave no trace on it. And both houses rise in contingent, ephemeral locations — along the shaft of a stairwell, or gently among old tree roots. They rest on the ground like
old houses, leaning against other houses or things, without looking up to the sun or turning towards the cardinal points. These houses’ world is the world of things, not the world of the stars.
The houses are almost identical also in that which they do not share with other houses... they do not have doors, windows, roofs, stairs or pipes. Instead of buried into the ground, the walls are suspended, making doors unnecessary to signal the passage between the outside and the inside. The outside and the inside
are difficult to tell apart — either the houses are the yards surrounding them, and out of them we are actually inside the reality of the house, or they keep treasures instead of privacy, like chests, tiny houses within the houses where nobody lives; therefore, outside these chests, we would be inside the intimacy surrounding
them... which would also render windows useless as intervals connecting intimacy and extimacy. They have no roof either — one is covered by the trees, the other by the museum. And they do not have passageways for people, like stairs, or for the flow of things, like pipes. Ordinary places are absent, and the things that
ordinary houses usually contain have a ghostlike existence, like a familiar absence, so familiar that we call house a collection of missing parts, of nonexistent elements that flutter away and vanish.
Calling them almost identical is inscribing the singular place that only happens when houses happen at the same time, when houses cross paths, the brief instant when two almost identical houses meet...
Porto, almost Spring 2016,
translation LAURA TALLONE