Hysterics of the Uncanny


Functionalism is about discipline; it breaks down the domestic body into functions and assigns them to antiseptic spaces; the result is a house type with scant allowance for history, sexuality, and the unconscious.

Surrealism is about desire; it fixes on the outmoded and the ornamental, the very forms tabooed in such functionalism, associated as they became not only with the historical and the fantastic, but with the infantile and the feminine. Against the “machine for living in” surrealism presents the house as a hysterical body. In so doing it not only insists that desire cannot be reduced out, but also reveals that the distortions due to its prohibitions cannot be undone.

And so we begin with a minor figure of architecture, Orson Squire Fowler. A phrenologist, activist and amateur architect of 19th century North America. Fowler was responsible for popularizing the octagonal house with a treatise entitled “A Home for All or The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, New, Cheap, Convenient, Superior, and Adapted to rich and poor.”

Fowler’s writings on architecture and phrenology point to a shift towards modernist pseudo-science rationalism in architecture. Where the conversation shifts away from beauty and desire and towards a functionalism.

Using a surrealist methodology, Fowler is put in conversation with the likes of Le Corbusier, Loos, Bataille, and Callois. Interrogating a set of modernist positions through the production of material artifacts. Each object unpacking a specific set of preoccupations in modernist discourse (darkness, ornament, dust, transparency, openness), ultimately leading to the destruction of the house as a space of desire.

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