F/utility

  • 2012 
  • Portland, Oregon, USA
  • In collaboration with Jeremy Hanson

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know, where functionality begins or ends...I have several times tried to think of an apartment in which there would be a useless room, absolutely and intentionally useless. It wouldn’t be a junkroom, it wouldn’t be an extra bedroom, or a corridor, or a cubby-hole or a corner. It would be a functionless space. It would serve for nothing, relate to nothing.” 
- Georges Perec, Species of Spaces

20 NW 16th Avenue, Portland, OR 97209

Scaffolding is a system of organization which is normally used for the pragmatic purpose of vertical rise during the considerable labor of constructing a building. Its own erection and disassembly, while necessary, is an exercise in futility. Scaffolding is intended to be invisible, unseen, and its very form supports this—thin steel tubes make up the frames, cross bracing stabilizes the frames opposite one another, base plates give the scaffolding feet, and elegant hardware with retractable steel nubs allow scaffolding frames to stack upon one another. And then, it is gone.

Likewise, the person renting a home, whether house or apartment—a type of dweller that makes up 34% of the American housing market.  Inhabiting the space of a contract, the lessee is obligated to dwell in rented space only temporarily, dwelling without marking surfaces, without offending the intangible proprietary boundaries set by the leaser/owner. The lessee is legally obligated to pay monthly monetary installments to the leaser/owner that perpetuate this cycle and permit continued inhabitation—money is the agreement. Chief among all rules in this agreement is this: that the lessee must not under any circumstances permanently alter the architecture that they inhabit. And then, they must be gone.

Both the scaffolding and the renter are necessary—one for the physical existence of an architecture, the other for the financial health of property owners, and the market they control. However, both scaffolding and lessees are both desired to be invisible, non-existent, mute.

Such a mute space—or, in Perec’s terms, a useless room—was developed over the course of sixteen hours in a 300 square foot studio apartment, erected out of common, leased construction scaffolding and heavily used construction fabric. The presence of this volume rendered the space within it useless and inaccessible. This extreme condition forced the circulation space around the useless room as solely and extremely functional: room for passing, not dwelling, reduced to a proportional, confined perimeter corridor of three feet. Pushed to such a functional extreme, even this perimeter space became useless for anything but perpetual motion, providing solely ambulation around the volume, access to the front door, kitchen, windows and bathroom. With a solely functionless space in the center of the apartment, wrapped by a solely functional space, typical inhabitation of the apartment was impossible. Then, it was immediately disassembled and returned—an exercise in futility.