Performance Architecture: Modernist House Spins 360 Degrees



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Would you live in a glass box that moves like a living thing in response to stimuli? This tiny house balanced atop a concrete pillar reacts to its inhabitants’ movements in surprising ways, highlighting the relationship between people and their homes.

It’s not enough that this modernist residence plunked down in a field in the middle of the Hudson Valley is completely transparent, putting its inhabitants on display: it’s also kinetic, acting like a living creature, spinning and tilting in perpetual motion. ReActor by Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley is far more than just shelter, it’s a performance piece, an experimental work of ‘social relationship architecture’ acting as a continuation of the architect-artist duo’s previous kinetic works. Created for the OMI International Arts Center in Ghent, New York, the installation puts a literal spin on the concept of an artist-in-residency.

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We generally envision architecture as inherently stable and solid, almost monolithic in its enveloping presence, welcoming us into calming spaces of our own creation when we need to retreat from the world outside. ReActor shakes up this dependable dynamic, not only by physically moving, but also by changing its relationship to the landscape and the sun.

The 40-by-8-foot house spins in a full 360-degree circle in response to the artists walking, sitting, standing, jumping or dancing within its walls, and tilts up and down, too. Both the motion of the inhabitants and the wind outside change ReActor’s center of gravity, so if they want it to be level again or face a certain direction, they have to tailor their movements to the task. The irregularity of the weather and their own patterns of moving through the house make it feel a bit like a ship rocking on the surface of the sea, and also provide a new sense of awareness of the presence of others in your environment.

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The artists talked to The New York Times about their preparations for living in the ReActor, and how it felt once they were inside.

“We almost never stop drifting in circles,” says Shelley. “It takes only the slightest breeze to set us in motion. It feels grand and processional. Always something to look at, always a new adjustment needed to stay in the shade. The rocking motion, on the other hand, is mostly caused by us moving around inside. The motions are graceful and oceanic… my experience in ReActor is that it really is pleasant, sheltering, even nurturing. But very controlling, A substantial amount of my energy is spent dealing with its capricious nature. My desire to be chillin’ is constantly interrupted for some adjustment. It’s not overly burdensome, but it is a big reduction in my sense of autonomy.”

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“A view that is always changing, sleep that comes and goes with the sun’s light, and a sense of connectedness with you roommate through knowing what he is doing and feeling mediated by the building – in short, this building is breakout our habits,” reveals Schweder.

The only complaint from the pair? “Alex and I spent much of the day dodging rays,” says Shelley. “Because ReActor keeps moving you can’t find a reliably shady corner for reading.”

ReActor will be open for a free public viewing on September 24th and 25th, and the artists will inhabit it again for a few days this fall. It will remain in place for two years, so if you’re in the Hudson Valley area, you’ve got plenty of time to check it out in person.

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