“Everything we think of as being normal in the home, everything we think of as being traditional—they’re all inventions,” states Jack Self, the London-based founder of the REAL Foundation, during an interview conducted as part of Archinect’s fourth live podcasting event, Next Up: Floating Worlds. “The corridor is an invention, the single bed is an invention, the kitchen is an invention. And they’re all constantly in a state of evolution. If we can view the house as a design object and as an artificial construct with social relations, then anyone can have power to change the way that they live. Go home and rearrange your living room. Put all the soft surfaces in one room and all the hard surfaces in another room. You’ll instantly see how much of a construct your home is.”
The REAL Foundation, a.k.a the Real Estate Architecture Laboratory, is something of a mix between an architectural practice, a cultural institute, a publisher and a curatorial agency. Likewise, Self straddles many roles. He holds degrees in architecture as well as in philosophy, specifically, on the morality of neoliberal economic theory. Through the REAL Foundation, he publishes the quarterly publication Real Review, which uses the review format to consider “what it means to live today”. Last summer, he co-curated the British Pavilion for the 2016 Venice Biennale, entitled Home Economics. Among his many endeavors, The Ingot was a project that involved developing a complex financial algorithm that could, theoretically, be used to place low-cost housing in the middle of central London. It typifies his practice, which tackles the complex context of the contemporary, global economy head-on, oriented by a strong dedication to spatial equality.
As such, Self was the perfect fit for Next Up: Floating Worlds, the fourth iteration of Archinect’s recurrent live podcasting event previously held at Jai & Jai Gallery, at the Chicago Architecture Biennial and at the A+D Museum in Los Angeles. Looking at potential roles for architecture in the contemporary neoliberal economy with a focus on issues pertaining to gender and identity, Next Up: Floating Worlds comprised a series of lectures followed by short interviews with each of the participants. It was held at the Neutra VDL House in Silverlake on March 4.Without unpaid labor, the family ceases to exist.
The event, which was co-hosted by Adjustments Agency, also served as the Los Angeles launch for thefxbeauties.club, a hybrid print and digital project by Christine Bjerke, another participant in the event. Self contributed a text to the project, Housewifization, which is now available online, and presented his research in a pre-recorded video viewable below. Bjerke’s project stems from her research into the FX Beauties Club, a group of Japanese housewives who engage in day-trading on foreign exchange markets. Looking at historical, economic roles for women in Japanese society, Self’s text revolves around the thesis that without unpaid domestic labor, “the family ceases to exist”—or, in other words, “capitalism ceases to exist”. Self contends that a variety of spatial, normative and economic conditions together position financial markets as the “one field that remains quite obviously open to housewives.”
In our interview with Self, which you can listen to here, we talk more broadly about his practice and his recent projects. Below are a series of highlights from the interview.
On his background:
“In 2011, I began to get very involved with the Occupy movement in London and there was a lot of talk going around at that time about social inequality, about access to the city, about access to public space. I am very much a product of my time. I had never thought before the crash about these issues.”
On the REAL Foundation:
“The REAL Foundation is a very unconventional model for practice because it is starting from the point of a cultural institute and then [spreads] itself out into other types of activity… Our structure as a foundation means that we pursue a very specific type of social and architectural agenda. We’re interested in material culture. We’re interested in the politics of space. We’re interested in understanding particular ideas about power relations and economic relations between individuals through alternative forms of property. And, as a result, we have a specific interest in housing.”
On Real Review:
“In Real Review, you have a couple things happening: one, we’re really thinking of the magazine as a kind of space, as real estate. It has a cost per square meter…and therefore you have to make a real priority about how you present material. It’s finite. It has a fixed number of articles, it comes out at a fixed period of time, and that really allows you to make a very clear editorial proposition. [Almost] like a manifesto. And, in this case, the ambition of Real Review is to create a general readership cultural review based in architecture, which talks about the things I’ve mentioned—spatial equality, inclusivity, tolerance democracy. How do these spatialize themselves? What are the systems that govern our power relations between individuals and in society? Are they right? Can we examine them?
And this is also why the review is so important as a form of text, because what the review does is it looks backwards at material evidence in order to make a proposal for the future. And that’s unlike a lot of architectural writing—and general writing, at the moment—which is about opinions. The problem with opinions is they can be easily rebutted or rejected. A review is really clear because it’s founded in something which exists. And that allows us to make a kind of positive discourse.”What are the systems that govern our power relations between individuals and in society? Are they right? Can we examine them?
“A lot of the time architects don’t even want to communicate to people outside of the discipline, and I think that’s a big mistake. We’ve got a lot to offer as a way of thinking about space and I think we’re being underutilized as a societal resource and as a political force as well. Real Review is our attempt to contribute to changing that and to opening up some of these really interesting ideas to a broad audience. The idea is that an architect with a PhD or an architect with 20 years of experience will find this magazine engaging, interesting, but also a really lay reader. I always think of my mom. Very intelligent person, vague interest in architect, potentially open to being interested by it, but has never really found something that draws her in. That’s I think the goal for architectural publishing in this century as well.”
On The Ingot:
“The Ingot was basically a very simple question: can we imagine a way to build low-cost social housing in the center of the City of London, in one of the most expensive parts of the city. The conclusion of that was to basically develop a new financial model that allowed that to be possible.”
On Home Economics:
“Alejandro Aravena is an architect famous for making only half a house. His model is to build half a house and then allow the inhabitants to build the other half over time. His theme for the Biennale was Reporting from the Frontline, which seemed to me a very confusing, military metaphor. I don’t find architecture to be, in its essence, militarized. what is the difference between being at home for days and being at home for decades?But, if we’re thinking about the frontline of British architecture, I think it’s definitely the extreme housing shortage that we have here. The quality of life is really falling a lot. People are no longer owning their own homes. They’re renting, they have very few rights so they’re increasingly exploited. It’s very expensive. It’s really a disaster.”
“The idea was to step outside what traditionally happens in an architectural biennale, which is you make a show, everyone comes, there’s a lot of self-congratulation and then everyone goes home again. The idea of Home Economics was to say, what are the financial models, which are creating housing in the UK and how can we make radical proposals for different types of housing.”
“If we think about life as existing through time in the home then the way in which we use space could be thought of very differently. It also allows you to strip out some of the more problematic questions around housing like cultural background, socioeconomic or demographic context, whether it’s in the countryside or in an urban environment. When we think about space through time those questions become a lot less relevant. So we had five time periods: a home designed for hours, for days, for months, for years, and for decades. The question was really, fundamentally, what is the difference between being at home for days and being at home for decades? What type of housing do they produce? What are the financial models which underpin them? And what is the space, within the British context, to make a strong proposal?”
Writer and fake architect, among other feints. Principal at Adjustments Agency. Co-founder of Encyclopedia Inc. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org