One-Family Home

One-Family Home in Floriac, France by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), 1998

Rem Koolhaas became internationally popular after the release of S,M,L,XL, a book almost as big and heavy as a CMU. His firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), produces work that ranges through the sizes the book indicates. Easily this one family house in Floriac, within the Bordeaux region of France, could be filed under S. But like the book illustrates common themes stream through the various scales of work, giving equal weight to each project. This house, completed after the release of the monograph, is one of OMA's strongest buildings to date and illustrates these themes: innovative and creative design solutions through thorough programmatic analysis expressed against existing architectural and urban conditions. Koolhaas's strong functionalist architecture begins from a deep conceptual knowledge of architectural history to discover what not do.

This residence recalls a project presented in the postscript to S,M,L,XL, a library for Jussieu University in France. Evidently this pointed the way for things to come. Both the library and the house use the elevator for the building's reason-to-be; the former replacing the elevator with folded plates connecting the floors, the latter placing an elevator at the center of the structure, due to the client's wheelchair-bound situation. While the library attempted to enrich the experience of circulation that the elevator removed, the house reinvigorates the experience of the elevator. To call it an elevator is necessary, though misleading. Although acting like an elevator, the moving platform opens itself up to the rest of the house, becoming part of and changing the experience of the client's home life. It is clear that Koolhaas designed the spaces of the house around the platform, reversing the typical design process in regards to vertical transport.
ELEVATOR: It is presented to the public as a theatrical spectacle. Elisha Otis, the inventor, mounts a platform that ascends. But when it has reached its highest level...Otis cuts the cable; its snaps. Nothing happens, neither to platform or inventor. Invisible safety catches prevent the platform from rejoining the surface of the earth. Thus Otis introduces an invention in urban theatricality: the anticlimax as denouement, the non-event as triumph.   -Rem Koolhaas
The house is comprised of three vertical blocks. The ground floor, adjacent to the parking ramp giving the owner easy access, contains mainly service functions (kitchen, laundry, wine cellar, etc.), each carved from the hillside in cave like spaces. The top floor contains the parent's and children's bedrooms in a heavy concrete mass, punctuated by random, circular openings. In-between are the living areas of the house, enclosed by glass on all sides, conceived as an internal-external space. Accessible to all three levels is the lift, furnished as a workspace, located adjacent to a full-height library.

When the elevator was invented and became safe, nobody knew how it would affect life nor the buildings we live and work in. The prospects were much more optimistic than the results, but the first elevators, such as those incorporated into the Eiffel Tower. embraced the lift as a machine to enhance the experience of time and space. Over the years it became internalized, pushed into a building's core (a very appropriate word in this instance), denying the user the experience of movement within a building. Although it enabled structures to reach higher and higher, it has forever affected the way space and circulation are treated in urban designs. Koolhaas responds to this schism by embracing the movement of the lift and creating spaces that alternate between solid and void, open and closed. These differences in the treatment of each level, much more complex than mere dialectics, are apparent as one moves up and down the lift; a cinematic touch as the scenery constantly changes. Hopefully a new-found optimism will be created as the elevator is taken to its roots in this small one-family house in Floirac.