Francisco González de Canales
Actar, Barcelona, Spain, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Architecture
5.7 x 8 inches, hardcover, 152 pages, 50 color and 50 black-and-white illustrations
ISBN: 9788492861651
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
experiments with life itself final cover

Cover of Experiments with Life Itself: Radical Domestic Architectures between 1937 and 1959 (2013), Actar

From the Publisher. Every book relating the history of modern architecture features a large number of pages dedicated to avant-garde designs and the formation of the modern movement in the interwar years, and a similar number devoted to reconstruction and expansion after World War II. Meanwhile, as if owing to lack of understanding or convenient silence, there is void of dark years, of wars, exile, and misfortune about which little can be said. However, it was in these dark times, as in so many other revealing moments in the history of culture, that experimental and profoundly invigorating experiences were taking place. Architects and artists voluntarily or forcibly driven to the margins of social importance began to react to a culturally unsustainable situation of which we know very little even today. In Experiments with Life Itself, Francisco González de Canales studies a series of unrelated cases from the late 1930s to the late 1950s that he refers to as domestic self-experimentation.

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Norman Weinstein

That much abused term “radical” assumes fresh life in this sensitively written account of five experiments in domestic architecture created against a societal background of war (actual or threatened) and exile. The spotlight is turned largely to the designs of well-known iconoclasts: Charles and Ray Eames, Juan O’Gorman, and Allison and Peter Smithson. But rather than write conventional case studies of their designs for houses, de Canales takes a daring interpretative leap that interfaces the crafting of the formal aesthetic of their domestic designs with the designers’ psychological imperatives to survive threatening times through radical design. The illuminating chapter on O’Gorman’s Mexican cave house masterfully brings together the designer’s desire for a womb-like safe haven with O’Gorman’s deep affection for pre-Hispanic ornamentation.

Particularly penetrating is de Canales’s study of the jousting working relationship between the poet Pablo Neruda and architect German Rodriguez Arias. Neruda’s mastery in unpredictably destabilizing many of the fixed facets of Arias’s designs for his three houses wryly reminds us of the extreme challenges an architect can face when his client is a poet as well as unschooled designer.

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