Category Archives: household

Out of the closet

Why does the humble wardrobe have so much appeal as a refuge, an escape to a different world even. From children’s stories like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Indian in the Cupboard, to farces and cartoons where everything from lovers to dead mothers are hidden in them, somehow wardrobes seem to be hotbeds of activity.

And it’s not all fictional. There was the story a few years back about the woman whose lover lived in the wardrobe, emerging one day to kill her husband and then in May this year there was the story of the Japanese man who found a homeless woman had moved into a closet in his house.

Perhaps our tendency to treat the wardrobe as a miniaturised house is an archetypal fantasy of having a nice safe nest, a fantasy that also plays out in cubby houses, tree houses, tiny buildings and caravans, Japanese tea houses even. It’s a sort of fantasy we fall into easily

and maybe that’s why Sydney artist Adam Norton‘s recent exhibition at Gallery9 was so appealing. His wardrobe, adaptively reused as a sort of inner space capsule had all the necessities for a long term hide away from the world.

All bodily functions are catered for, there is storage for food and water, as well as cooking and washing facilities.

There is even a periscope so that you can check if the coast is clear before getting out and stretching your legs.

The reading is admittedly of the most survivalist type but this is where theory and practice are synthesised into an entire lifestyle, and the clock, notebook and paper allow you to document the experience as well, thus creating a complete loop of self referentiality, so to speak.

It’s not as luxuriously roomy as the International Space Station

but it at least seems on a par with early US space capsules. Perhaps later versions will expand to fill the space available, a wardrobe as large as the room it stands in.

Of course there are more ways of hiding than hiding in a cupboard. Norton’s other works include suits for urban camouflage allowing the wearer to lie around inconspicuously in the urban outdoors or even hide within a map.

Don’t look down!

alternating stair bookcase

A bookcase adaptively reused as a staircase or a staircase adaptively reused as a bookcase? Oh well, taxonomy always was a taxing discipline. You have no doubt already seen these stairs or bookcase in the last week or so – although I can’t remember where I saw them first. But Apartment Therapy is where they came from and bottleworld has a post discussing why alternating tread stairs work so well.

Catching up

We’re back after a desperately needed break, last year was far too busy and problematic, hence the slow posting. Hope you all had a happy buying season and paid due obeisance to the gods of consumerism – at least you can be sure they exist.

Santa confesses he and Jesus aren't real

Let’s do a bit of a round up to get us started.

This turned up in our email from Etienne Meneau titled La Maison Elastique

The elastic houses are made for those who like instability and precarious, who like to be awakened by the sound of the rain, those who like to sleep under the boats returned. They will be recalled at any time to the realities of gravity, rocked bywind and earthquakes. The elastic houses therefore ask its inhabitants a strong sense of balance and a real taste for the experiments.

And we are of course great lovers of the unstable and the precarious. But that image has already got a bit of a run from a few other blogs.

We preferred this,

a more minimal interpretation of the hammock adaptively reused as a hang out, so to speak.

And the roof is also wonderful but the reason for its wonderfulness eludes us, it just has that certain minimalist indefinable je ne sais quoi.


(Photo cdstar)

Meanwhile the High Line adaptive reuse project is progressing nicely although this garden will be sadly missed by someone. It illustrates perfectly how it’s the stolen places and lost spaces in the cracks of urbanisation that so often make cities livable. Here are some photos of the work in progress. And speaking of stolen places, just in case you missed this story, how about living (secretly) in a mall?

Studio Jo Meesters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands has been adaptively reusing old tea services as, er, new tea services by sand blasting them

And near by in Brussels time is up for RDF811,

the temporary headquarters of Brussels group Rotor, also squeezed into a waste space if not exactly lost or secret.

In December 2006, Rotor took the initiative to build a temporary HQ in the rue de flandres. One year and a 2 months later, we are starting to plan its disassembly. Deconstruction is scheduled for 22, 23, 24 of February, and we are still looking for volunteers who can help us. Concretely, we are looking for 10 volunteers for each day, but if you can only spare a couple of hours, you are welcome as well.

If you’re in Brussels with a hammer in your hand contact them through their new website .

We liked their kitchen of reused diecutting stamping boards but we doubt if there are enough to go round, just like there weren’t enough of the book that has come out on our favourite architects Lacaton Vassal and sold out before we even heard about it. It’s a hard life.

But at least those bats won’t miss out,

their new home is on the way.

Finally, we are so used to seeing great films stolen and fucked up by Hollywood remade (there is nothing in the universe that can’t be made cheaper and nastier under the direction of an accountant) that it is great to see a project that could be described as an adaptive reuse of a film classic with the potential to be as interesting as the original.

Dziga Vertov‘s early cinematic masterpiece Man with a movie camera is being remade shot by shot on the internet in a sort of open source film making exercise where you can provide your own version of a scene from the original.

Individuals are invited to upload shots and scenes based on scenes from the original film, creating a database which then streams as a film. As a collection of personal visions this montage is in Vertov’s terms “a continuous exchange of visible fact”. Uploads to the site will take place continuously: the nature of the database is infinite.

We loved the original and we are sure this will be a classic as well. (Thanks for the link Deb)

The real post-modernism

We’ll confess we’d like to be corrupted and this post is a straight out attempt at getting some payola. Admittedly the subject, the Dutch designers Meesters & Van Der Park, deserve all the praise we can give them but unfortunately they have just announced the split up of their partnership.

So we’re saying nothing but the nicest things in the hope we will be rewarded with one of these for free, surely they’ll find a surplus one as they work out their property settlement?*

We’d been saving up the link to them so we could write a post where we talked about the sheer beauty of their design which, like much recent Dutch design,

combines a nostalgia for the old with a surface of the contemporary,

an aesthetic of adaptive reuse, eg this carpet made of blankets

or this sand blasted and perforated cupboard.

They have adapted the aesthetic of archaeological repair (with added windmills and big Mac signs).

And they’re even into social knitting, having designed new products for Eindhoven Red Cross volunteer knitters. In other words they are the very model of the modern cool young designers. And we’re not just saying that because we’d love to have ……

No, the real reason is because we wanted to write about them as a perfect illustration of the developing post-hydrocarbon aesthetic, as defined in this very interesting essay by Richard Heinberg in Energy Bulletin

At first thought, aesthetics might seem utterly incidental, given the survival challenges imposed by Peak Oil, climate chaos, mass extinctions, and so on. However, art is part of the necessary process of cultural adaptation. People inevitably find ways not just to endure, but to enjoy — to find happiness in the midst of change. We are, after all, environment shapers. As birds build nests, we build campsites, fashion clothing, and (if we are civilized humans) build cities. But as we shape our environments, those environments in turn mold our perceptions, our judgments, our expectations, our very consciousness.

After analysing the aesthetics of the industrial revolution and the Arts and Crafts movement followed by “the tragic interlude of cheap abundance” and “hydro-carbon: big, fast and ugly” he goes on to list a number of likely characteristics. Now if there is one thing you can say about art history it is that it can take extraordinary and unpredictable turns, but his predictions are very convincing. The work of Meesters & Van Der Park and many other contemporary designers undoubtedly display some of the characteristics of the transitional era he describes (forgive the long quote)

8. Because the transitional era (i.e., the coming century) will be one in which species will continue to vanish, and because people will find themselves having to adapt to weather and other natural conditions (since they will no longer be able to insulate themselves from these with high-energy buildings and machines), workers will probably be inspired to incorporate themes from nature into their products.
9. In their efforts to identify aesthetic themes appropriate to hand labor and natural materials, workers will likely end up drawing upon vernacular design traditions.
10. Because people living in the transitional era will be witnessing the passing of the fossil-fueled machine culture of their youth, they will probably be inspired to incorporate occasional ironic or nostalgic comments on that passing into their artistic output.
11. Beauty may to a certain extent be in the eye of the beholder, but there are universal principles of harmony and proportion that perennially reappear; and, given that workers will be required to invent much of their aesthetic vocabulary from scratch, they will no doubt fall back upon these principles frequently.
12. Since we are entering an era of declining availability of raw materials, the new aesthetic will by necessity emphasize leanness and simplicity, and will eschew superfluous decoration. The Zen architecture of Japan may serve as an inspiration in this regard.

Now go and read the whole essay, it’s worth it.

*We should explain that the reason we haven’t posted much in the last few weeks is because we’ve had the excavator in ripping up our garden, again, for about the tenth time now in the last three years. It’s all because we have about an acre of land that has in its time been everything from a general store to a car wreckers yard and a bus depot so it is now more than a metre deep in buried car wrecks, road fill, kerosene shale, endless contaminants etc.

We took on the project of fixing it up and turning it into a contemporary garden, ie one that combined remediation with food production. It’s been great fun but the excavator is now a machine burned indelibly into our subconscious.

This printed life

If there is one thing we are looking forward to this year it’s the test run of Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting 3D House Printer in April 2007. You could call it printer technology adaptively reused but it’s more a case of evolved.

So, print yourself a house then pop out to your shed where you keep your Acme MakesEverything

(evolved from the Fab@Home fabber) and print out anything else you need.

You could even print a plane.

And in a different way you can already get printed furniture. O brave new world, even if it does at times resemble a Goon Show dystopia.

PS It is worth persisting with this valley girl interview with Khoshnevis to hear him talk at the end about his course in creativity – he’s our sort of guy!

The most sincere form of flattery

Let’s be even more critical than usual. This stuff is just plain bloody awful. Since we are not interested in shaming we won’t even tell you where it comes from,

the point is that it is indicative of something that seems to be increasing, fake adaptive reuse, a sort of greener shabby chic.

It tries to look like adaptive reuse but it uses brand new materials, presumably because it would sully the sterility of the bourgeouis environment to actually use grubby old materials. You get to look cool and environmentally aware without giving up your wealthy consumer status.

It’s the perfect illustration of how consumerism can poison its opposition by turning the opposition into a product. Marcuse described it long ago.

Don’t waste your energy

Part One


There is nothing new about pedal power electricity in Australia, in fact throughout most of the twentieth century the adaptively reused bike pedal was essential to two of the mainstays of outback life, the Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air. Both relied on radio powered by a pedal generator invented in 1928 by Alfred Traeger, shown above with his first working prototype. It continued in use until late in the century when the “Traeger” was replaced by diesel generators and, more recently, solar power.


But that doesn’t mean the idea disappeared. You can still buy similar generators


including one that is hooked up to a normal bike.


But what of this Chinese version, clearly based on the adaptively reused exercise bike?

We’ve had a few laughs in the past at the uselessness of the exercise bike and at the whole sport/exercise culture, one of those delightful examples of capitalism selling a lifestyle that destroys health then making more money by selling a supposed cure for the poor health it is creating. It’s tragic that the history of human physical exertion has come to this absurdity although some slight sanity is reappearing, like redesigning cities to make them more walkable.


Now it may just be post-holiday-season dyspepsia, or our ingrained tendency to always look for the unintended consequence, but something about this exercise machine made us suspect that in a dystopic sustainable future we could be seeing rows of prisoners exercising away to generate the power to run sustainable prisons. Plus ça change.


Strangely, the prison treadmill (the hard labour part of “Sentenced to hard labour”) was common in Britain but it never took off in the US where it was viewed as a profligate waste of labour already in short supply (the chain gang was preferred). The treadmill’s exhausting, mind-numbing futility is credited with the final destruction of Oscar Wilde, yet throughout the developed world the obese, and the merely narcissistic, regularly subject themselves to a similar regime at the gym. Go figure.

Part Two

Just before posting the above, while checking something, Notions of Expenditure turned up in a search.


It’s a proposal to hook gymnasium equipment up to the grid and use all that exercise to generate power, but it’s much more than that and deserves a future post of it’s own. It’s a great site, a bit hard to decide whether it’s completely serious or not, but it’s got lots of info, proposals and interesting links – go and check it out in depth. But ya gotta laugh, because prisons and gyms are equally places of futile suffering we felt like saying great minds think alike…until we found this exasperated editorial comment on yet another “great idea” along the same lines. Originality 30%? Maybe that’s a sign that the adaptively reused gymnasium’s time has come and someone should do it.

Going dutch

For quite a few years now the Dutch have produced some of the best design in the world. Pragmatism seems to be a national characteristic and it’s an attitude that lends itself to adaptive reuse, seen here in one of the first bits of contemporary Dutch design to catch our attention.


This is Tejo Remy’s (warning poxy flash infested site) wonderful ‘You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory’ chest of drawers from 1991, an accumulation of reused drawers held together with a strap.


His rag chair is equally irresistible.

Remy is a long term member of the droog design collective, the sort of group that gives contemporary design a good name. Look at this for instance,


a series of stickers to create the cheapest home gym around (by Han Koning, Louise Maniëtte, Tarmo Piirmets and Jet Vervest, 2002), an example of conceptual art influencing furniture design?


Or the tree trunk bench (by Jurgen Bey, 1999, (yes, more poxy flash animation), you supply the tree, they supply the bronze chair backs. And look at his reused chairs at the Milan Design Festival in 2004.


Droog even do a milk bottle lamp although unfortunately that gets close to something we hate, a style we call Faux Adaptive Reuse where new products are made to look like reused products. We’ll forgive this one because it too was done by Tejo Remy way back in 1991.

Call the gift therapist


Call that a bottle top? This is a bottle top! Jorre van Aste’s jar tops reminded us of this, the Twist and Spout, been around for a while but we noticed it again on the Core77 gift list.


We also saw this on their list, an elegant hybrid adaptively reusing the design of both the coat hanger and the paper clip (more history here). Beautifully done.

But if you get either of those as a present it’s time to be reconsidering the relationship.