Architecture (Previously posted Dec 2006)

Shipping containers in Architecture: Quik House : Adam Kalkin

“You can look at them both as junk or as something special,” Kalkin notes. “To me they are like a treasured antique: they may not be inherently valuable, but the history and the storytelling add value.” Kalkin‘s inventive architectural vision grows directly out of his belief in interconnectedness. He argues, “We come from a culture of sampling. I’m just out there in the world picking out things and reusing things—sampling—from my experience and from what other people have already invested a lot of time and energy in. I think there's a tremendous amount of richness out there.”

His ability to mix unlikely sources and materials with the fairly straightforward domain of domestic architecture sets him apart from other architects, he thinks: “I‘m a little bit outside of architecture, in the sense of my lack of allegiance to a specific kind of behavior or orthodoxy. I don’t value architecture culture over other cultures: I draw from writers, music, and the visual arts. Who wants to narrow the world down?” Instead Kalkin hopes he‘s “seeing real connections between things and reaching toward a humanitarian core,” revealing that the “distinctions we’ve built up are false ones.” Just as insects make the most of a fallen tree in a forest, utilizing the tree for both shelter and food, Kalkin sees the sense in “repurposing” objects for architectural ends. Or, as he says, “Any kind of junk can be turned into stuff.”

RE: Sampling

The notion of sampling comes through

Living in a container is an artistic act with a dark side. After all, containers are “where all the people who try to stow away” are found, Kalkin explains, and sometimes they‘re found dead. Since 9-11, the ports of the world are one WMD-filled cargo container away from total paralysis. (With no worldwide security system in place, ports and commercial traffic all over the world could shut down if even one shipping container secretly held nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.) Containers, even ones rigged together to form ultra-contemporary living spaces with lots of light, are “just as much about what’s inside as what they are.” And what's inside a Quik House but you and all your accumulated former cargo? Plenty of people fill their living spaces with ironic tchotchkes, but who wants to live in a house that is also a postmodern comment? Especially one without exposed brick.,essay,51672,1.html

It is not surprising that the city, with its clash of experiences, objects, sounds, and cultures, inspires much of Kalkin's work. In a New York City apartment he designed, everything is moveable to represent the transitoriness of urban life. In a conceptual art piece called “Baby Monitor,” multiple baby monitors are gathered together in a superstructure and each is linked to various spaces throughout the city. The work, Kalkin explained, brings together the fractured and unseen happenings of urban life.

At the center of Kalkin‘s methodology is the privileging of the emotional and physical over the rational. Kalkin uses his work to articulate, or even substitute for, physical sensations, and he considers his art and architecture to be an extension of his own mind and body. Key to his artistic labor is the idea of mental “hygiene,” or the process of cleansing his mind and resolving internal issues through his work. Kalkin’s complete satisfaction with his work arrives when he has climaxed at a state of “maximum hygiene,” or greatest clarity. Kalkin conceded that creating architecture and art in this way can be an exclusive process that denies everyone but the artist the opportunity to participate in the work.

In this sense, Kalkin believes that his work should fulfill not just his client‘s fantasies, but also his fantasies as an architect and artist. He thus places great importance on establishing a just, even moral relationship with his clients that will allow both parties’ expectations to be met. On the one hand, this relationship demands that the architect strive to establish a personal connection with his client in order to respond instinctively to the client's needs and the programmatic aspects of a building. On the other hand, according to Kalkin, the client must be willing to take a risk and enter into a relationship with the architect that allows the latter a degree of selfishness, or the independence to wander and experiment within circumscribed limits.

Kalkin's patent applications are one way he achieves “mental hygiene,” and he shared with the audience several of the inventions for which he is seeking patents. In one, the sole of a sneaker is cut into fine layers, each of which has an image on it. As the sole wears down, each layer is exposed to create a very slow-motion film. His idea for “stereophonic rumble strips” entails placing rumble strips of various musical frequencies on federal highways so that automobile tires play melodies. Billboards would announce song titles and composers.

The book Architecture and Hygiene is available on For more information on Kalkin's work, visit his website,

Mr. Kalkin has used the container as a centerpiece in a broad spectrum of projects that include affordable housing, refugee shelters, performance pieces, movies and Web sites. “I‘m not into the container per se,” Mr. Kalkin said. “It’s what I can do with it emotionally; transforming a commodity into poetry.”

I find myself intrigued by the work of Adam Kalkin, in part because of his ‘sampling’ or perhaps hacker creative ethic and in part because of “the privileging of the emotional and physical over the rational”. In some ways this latter notion has a connectedness to the idea of the artisan, especially in the respect of working in the physical; there is a relationship between physical craftsmanship and the emotional that I find myself drawn to.

Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban, Ban Shigeru; born 1957 in Tokyo, Japan) is an accomplished Japanese and international architect, most famous for his innovative work with paper, particularly recycled cardboard paper tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims. Shigeru Ban was the winner in 2005 at age 48 of the 40th annual Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

… Ban is most-famous now for his innovative work with paper and cardboard tubing as a material for building construction. He was the first architect in Japan to construct a building primarily out of paper, with his paper house and required special approval for his building to pass Japan‘s building code. Ban is attracted to using paper because of its low-cost, its recyclable, low-tech and they’re replaceable. The last aspect of Ban‘s influences is his humanitarianism and his attraction to ecological architecture. Ban’s work with paper and other materials is heavily based on it's sustanability and because it produces very little waste. …

It is, I suspect, the juxtaposition of the physical, emotional architecture of ancient Japan, and the modernism of present day Japan, combined with an exciting use of unusual materials that attracts me to the work of architect Shiguru Ban.