Alexandra Lange | Essays

The Only Thing There’s Just Too Little Of

Greg Lynn, Fountain, Hammer Museum, 2010

Opening April 30 at the OTIS College of Art & Design's Ben Maltz Gallery, the exhibition BROODWORK: It's About Time foregrounds an issue rarely mentioned in discussions of architecture and design: family life. Sure, there are plenty of three-figure dollhouses for kids. And stylized families in Dwell. But we don't talk about how having children affects our creative life, our work patterns, what we want to make and how much time we have to make it. That's why time is the theme for this exhibition, part of an ongoing curatorial project by Iris Anna Regn and Rebecca Niederlander, an architect and an artist.

I talked to Regn earlier this month about the impetus for BROODWORK, and her answer was simple:
When you go to Rome it influences your architecture, so of course having a child will influence you. Why isn't anyone talking about that? And the way architecture offices are structured it is still this grad school model, working all night, that absolutely doesn't work with a family. So why are people still being asked to choose?

Time is what people don't have enough of, and it is sliced and diced differently when you are a parent. You start to think about time generationally. I'm on the elementary school schedule when I plan my year.
(And I am writing this post on a weekend, when a little bit of work is strangely invigorating after a lot of playground.) The idea of time as sliced and diced, and how it is hard to turn the architectural brain off and the parenting brain on, and vice versa, have been interpreted in the show by Greg Lynn and SO-IL among others. The image above is Lynn's response to the heap of plastic inflicted by contemporary American parenthood, a series of room dividers and furniture pieces that recycle Little Tikes Rockin' Puppy (just imagine a pretentious architect uttering those words), Chicco USA's Rock n' Roll Eggplant, and several other animorphic teeter totters into something between art and design. And he's not hiding it. The front page of his website says: We Want Your Toys.

I think this might be the other side of Donovan Hohn's rubber duckie hunt. DaddyTypes posted a less sanguine critique after these pieces won an award at the 2008 Venice Biennale. The exhibit also includes Nina Tolstrup's DIY version of the same: the Pallet Project, sold as instructions for recycling shipping pallets into children's furniture.

SO-IL and Corinne Van der Borch and Iwan Baan, Common Ground, 2011

The project by architects SO-IL is also an exercise in working with what parenting hands you. Partners Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg write:
We never got to have the time to think about what kind of parents we want to be, norwhat kind of architect. We fought the sleepiness through the night feedings by thinkingabout the window details. We brought the kids along to the numerous site visits onweekends. They were always happy guests at our office dinners and holiday parties,knew the name of every one of our staffs, and proudly invited their friends to the openingof our projects.

Now our older daughter is 4 years old and the office 3, there came a natural convergent point where we sought to rethink the model of the living spaces, as we increasingly findthe over-priced housing market in New York structurally ignores the relational spaces in aresidential environment. We wanted to test the viability of an architecture that facilitate acommunal oasis in the hyper-urban setting.
What they propose is a communal housing development, co-housing for a select group of very talented friends (also in the exhibition, a film about the project, now called Common Ground, by Corinne Van der Borch and Iwan Baan.

If, like me, you can't get to the exhibit, there's an enormous amount of collateral material on the project website, Regn and Niederlander are also contributors to Herman Miller's Lifework blog, an interesting teaming of conceptual curation and practical ergonomics. Regn says:
Herman Miller made its money off office furniture, but the whole Lifework blog is about working from home. They are reseaching what people need who are working from home. BROODWORK is like the family research arm of Lifework.
I've written in the past about women in architecture, architecture couples, chidren and urbanism and the empty formalist turn most design for kids has taken. Even architects' first wives. I have been mulling a number of the questions asked and answered in BROODWORK, and I am planning to ask some of them out loud and in New York City soon. So if the topic of parenthood and architecture interests you, please watch this space.

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Comments [1]

Thanks for raising this topic. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, particularly positive examples of parenthood and a serious design career being not only compatible, but hopefully symbiotic. As a female designer on the verge of having a family, the feeling that I'll be putting my career on the back burner is depressing.
Kate Howe

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