The Embodiment of a Study
September 20, 2001
Bye House (Wall House 2) was designed in the early
1970's by John Hejduk for a site in Connecticut, USA, but was never
built. Ten years ago the town of Groningen, in the north of the
Netherlands, undertook to build this famous house on a lakeside
site on the town's outskirts. Early in September, one year after
Hejduk's death, the house was completed.
The domestic spaces are attached to the wall,
with the entrance on the other side.
In the early 1970's, while he was teaching at the Cooper Union
in New York, Hejduk made a number of study designs for a house that
placed living in the context of time by means of a Wall. The Wall
symbolises the physical transition from past to future through the
present, a transition between back and front, closed and open. The
Wall, one-and-a-half metres thick, forms the basis of the house.
The entrance and living elements literally hang from it. To reinforce
this idea, a narrow gap is left between the Wall and the elements.
Hence the Wall is not directly manifest in the interiors but can
only be perceived visually. It is without doubt a theoretical house,
based on an idea about the physical confrontation between space
and time, elaborated in complex composed of separate elements. In
that sense it is a unique icon, a museological manifestation of
an important architectural concept.
View approaching the house.
Following the opening, Wim van den Bergh, an authority on Hejduk,
delivered the Bouma Lecture, which was organised by GRAS. Among
the issues he touched upon were those characteristics that could
turn a house into a home. He illustrated this with some examples
where the house can be read as an autobiography of the architect
or is realised in very close co-operation with the client.
Wall House 2, also known as Bye House, was designed in 1973 for
the client Bye for a real site in the USA. It was not built at the
time however. Set in the hilly landscape of Connecticut, the house
was to be approached from the side so that the entrance was not
immediately apparent. Having passed along the lengthy corridor and
reached the other side of the Wall, you are presented with a wide-open
vista. In Groningen this progression is approximated as faithfully
as possible: the street, the path, and the vista crowned by dramatic
clouds. Despite these features, the Wall House is sited in a quintessentially
Dutch suburb with row upon row of cheerful new dwellings. The context
brings the Wall House back to everyday reality
Assessing the suitability of the Wall House as a suburban dwelling
in Groningen, you have to conclude that it's far from ideal. Without
a clearly defined front or rear side, the house occupies what by Dutch
standards is a large site. But the external space is needed to allow
the house to read as a sculpture on a pedestal. This space cannot
be accessed directly from the living room. To do that, you must first
walk back along the corridor to the main entrance. Despite the large
volume the interior appears small. The Wall casts an oppressive shadow
across the house. Attached to the Wall, the living spaces focus on
the lake view through their strip windows. The kitchen and dining
space, the middle of the three volumes, does not even have windows
that open. One single swing window by the draining board gives onto
the half-metre-wide recess separating the Wall and kitchen. The house
stands in a neighbourhood, but on no side does it have the shelter
that would turn this house into a home.
The Wall as seen from the living spaces, and
the entrance with bedroom.
But an assessment of the Wall House as a dwelling in this setting
is of another order than an assessment of the Wall House as a built
icon. It is almost certain fact that a potential buyer is ready to
pay three million guilders (1.3 Euros) for this architectural monument,
only to furnish it with those everyday household items of furniture,
curtains, kitchenware and the like. However, that is not to say that
you can judge the Wall House as if it were just a house designed for
one of the many new residential areas in the Netherlands. It remains
the embodiment of an architectural theory that would be best shown
to advantage if it were to remain public property and opened for visitors.
There is a good chance that the house, once inhabited, will be reduced
by the media to a sculpture without meaning, depriving visitors of
the experience of moving along the Wall.
translation: Billy Nolan
The house is open to the public until October 7, 2001.