Los Angeles, CA
When Corbu said of the house that it should be considered “a machine for living,” most heard it as “a machine for living in.” As a caption for a series of houses and as a exhortatory critique of the historical and cultural context challenged by their design, this compelling aphorism became, with "form follows function," the modernist credo. The houses became icons of the modern movement—the quintessential machines for living in—while the functionalist mindset illuminated by them became the reality we continue to live.
As a provocation, the idea of a Machine For Living was wielded with equal conviction by advocates and detractors, a statement of radical intent by the one, and of impossible ridicule by the other. It was ripe for the time, embraced as revolutionary slogan, and as confirmation that the revolution would be bloody; as the “terrible” leading edge of a new aesthetic that found beauty not in the classic ideal of the sublime, but in the more progressive ideal of performance. The formula was succinct and easily applicable, it lent itself to spinoff phrases that continue to proliferate: any expression of functional relationship can be—and will be—couched in these terms.
There is a difference, though, between a machine for living, and one for living in: The Machine For Living is “always already” everywhere; it becomes the Machine For Living In when presented—falsely, Heidegger would claim—for consideration as a recognizable choice. The notion of being able to isolate a discreet part of the environment as a machine for living in is delusive in an age of completed enframing: all experience is a vast machine, which we inhabit as components ever standing in reserve for use. Because we are immersed, though, our perception of this reality is minimal. As parts ourselves, we cannot see the machine itself as anything remarkable. Unless it is presented to us , as a discreet object with the surfeit of function we call expression, it looks just like space and and feels just like experience.
When the machine is explicitly presented to us, though, we see it as symbol, to be inhabited, and it becomes drained of much of its possible critical effect. ( )The modernist fetishizing of mass-production lies behind much of the abstracted formalism of the early machines for living in.; viewed as a product, the house, like the automobile or Thonet or bottle, challenges architecture’s presumption of fixity and uniquenenss, but does not touch the idea of the machine.
The rule of enframing would demand a quantification of the idea of “living”—first a rethinking of its passiveness as a mere condition of existence to seeing it as an active, intentional pursuit, that could be served, and then an atomizing of its continuous experience into discrete, namable activities and a quantification of these. The machine for living idea implies a radical rethinking of the collection of activities gathered (contained) as room labels under the heading “house.” When the house is understood as a machine, it explodes their necessary togetherness by reconceptualizing the house away from its homeness and toward an enumeration of activities/functions—that might be more efficiently serviced if unencumbered by unexamined traditions or unthinking habit.Thus, rooms become named, of course, and attention is directed to making their resulting forms distinct. Corbu was willing to follow his polemic this far, but enframing’s logic is absolute, and demands that this quantization proceed further, that these activities be analyzed into smaller and smaller subassemblies. In the interest of efficiency any vestiges of tradition must be relinquished and the assumptions residing in the conventional spatial divisions be challenged: how do we really live? What is a “living room?” or salon? What is a bedroom—what happens here, really, and how can architecture help?
Yet for the most part Corbu accepts the traditional program. LC stops short of the more radical fulfillment of the implications of a machine for living. This is another reason his house was understood as a house for living in. LC scatters signs of appreciation of the more radical implications of the machine for living concept—the lavatory at the entry, the sculpted bath tub—but these are merely tokens within a conventionally programmed house.
Corbu embodied his abstractions in further metaphors; the ship and airplane were considered advanced forms, but mostly because of the chance relationship between abstraction and streamlining: they were valued for their formal properties, not their functional abilities. Their attraction was polemical, not programmatic, and their application was representational, not significant or structural. For him, form never followed function, or at least not blindly. He saw it the other way around: function as an excuse or justification for form. The machinic connection between the ocean liner or airplane and the house was really a vehicle for introducing the swoopy abstraction of the former to the latter. LC was a polemicist, not a critic. His comments were always designed with an eye to their pr potential. He was also a classicist. He wanted his machine for living to remain a house—a better, more efficient, updated house, a house more like a machine in its service of the life it hosted—but still a house. And a house can only be a machine for living in.
A young couple has purchased a marginal site with spectacular views for a new house. The lot is in Pacific Palisades at the edge of a recent landslide; the view it enjoys is relatively new—appearing magically one day when the neighbors slid down the hill into the Potrero Canyon. It is possible that the slide-plane extends back through the lot (the hillside may not have completely stabilized yet), so extensive precautions are being taken with the foundations. These include 75-foot-deep drilled pilings tied together with an extensive grade beam system. Setback requirements and common sense dictate that the house stand back from the edge of the new cliff.
From all parts of the site the attention is drawn westward. Since the lot is so exposed, some inward focused spaces to counter the gravitational pull of the view seem appropriate—to reassert the importance of a “here” from which the siren call of out there may be heard.
The couple collects art and often works at home. He is an architect and she is an entrepreneur. They entertain regularly and often have guests stay with them. There are no children. The idea of “California living” intrigues them since they have only recently relocated from the East coast; a pool and the building’s open orientation to the entertainment spaces in the yard—lots of glass and sliding doors and patio space—announces this interest architecturally. The sunshades which naturally follow, given the southwestern exposure of the site, recall other Southern California themes related to water sports and lightness. Underlying this sunny reading, though, is the figure of a totally boss machine for living.
The house is conceptually divided into lower and upper sections, the one attending to the site, burrowing into it for better purchase, and the other oriented to the view, swinging free of the site to take in the air and light that drenches the area. The building is tethered back to the neighborhood by its garage and driveway, and reaches out to the horizon with its open roof deck. The so called “living areas” (living, dining, kitchen) are down at ground level (actually a few feet below), while the bedrooms are ranged along the rotated bar at the upper levels. Between the two, on the piano nobile of the rotated bar, are the gallery and office/library; a wheat grass garden is just outside on top of the garage. The view and concerns for privacy from the neighbors give rise to a clear distinction between uphill and downhill sides. Since the house sits exposed, as the outermost residence in the neighborhood, it lies directly in the view. Without turning its back to the neighbors, the house opens up to the view downhill and presents a more solid face to the view from the street.
Location: Los Angeles, CA, US