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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Book + DVD Review: Koolhaas Houselife

Koolhaas Houselife by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine
BêkaPartners, 2013
Book: Hardcover, 140 pages
DVD: All-Region PAL, 58 minutes

A quick glance at the cover of this DVD-book (above) reveals that the viewer-reader will be treated to an atypical presentation of OMA/Rem Koolhaas's Maison à Bordeaux. Instead of shots highlighting the house's recognizable architectural qualities (akin to architectural photography, like the below photo), the framing of housekeeper Guadalupe Acedo and her tools makes it clear the documentary is about the use of the building—but by individuals other than the clients, a married couple with three kids when the house was completed in 1998.

This is an interesting approach that primarily reflects the desire of filmmakers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine to look at architecture through a different lens, but also due to the fact the husband—bound to a wheelchair after a car accident—died in 2001. The house catered to him through the moving platform that Guadalupe inhabits on the cover and other parts of the design; therefore the house cannot be used in the same way and portraying it otherwise would be dishonest.

At times, this story story of the house as told through the housekeeper, the window washers, and other people involved with overseeing its maintenance and operations, is as touching as it is revealing about the house's inner workings. Particularly touching is a scene when Guadalupe talks about the house being full of guests and laughter when the husband was alive; since his death, Madame, as she calls her, does laugh, "but not like before." When Guadalupe moves off frame after saying these words, it's as if she's too sad to want to stay on camera.

The film is great at capturing moments like these, be they emotional, visual (the window washer squeegeeing the skylight above the moving platform), or humorous (the house's many moving parts juxtaposed against a scene from Mon Oncle playing on a television set in the house). It's not until the last few minutes that we see Madame, in a long shot, closing the curtains and turning off the lights before bed, as much a routine as Guadalupe circumnavigation of the house as she cleans it.

The heart of the DVD-book is the 58-minute film discussed above. Accompanying it is an 11-minute interview with Rem Koolhaas, a half-hour piece on the whole 5-part "Living Architecture" series (of which Koolhaas Houselife is the first part), and the book, which is itself split into two parts—a visual and textual "diary/journal" that encapsulates the film, and a conversation with the filmmakers and designers Marie Bruneau and Bertrand Genier.

The series title Living Architectures refers to the way buildings take on lives of their own after the architects are done with their work and any media hoopla dies down. In the case of the Maison à Bordeaux, it also speaks about how the building has evolved beyond its original raison d'être and has unfolded through the actions of various individuals whose lives are in turn shaped by the architecture.


  1. Once I talked to a guy who worked inside the "kunsthal" (Rotterdam, Netherlands). He said it was a terrible place. Nice to watch, terrible to be in all day.

  2. Funny picture there. I guess it summarizes the whole issue about housekeeping.

    University of Nigeria


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