Haus III or the “House Without qualities” (Haus ohne Eigenschaften) is a late work by German architect Oswald Mathias Ungers which the architect built for his wife and himself. Constructed in Cologne in 1995, the house is considered an experiment on the reduction of architectural elements and it materializes the research on abstraction which Ungers had developed over the years; in this sense, the building can by seen as a conceptual model for a house which has been made real through building.
The house has a rectangular plan based on a classical architectural scheme, a central space and two side-aisles. It consists of two floors with five rooms, a central double-height volume and four equal rooms in the side-aisles.
Crucial in the design of the plan is the thickness of the exterior and the interior walls which are used to incorporate service facilities, like stairs, toilets, the elevator, bathrooms and storage spaces. The width of the walls is always the same through the whole plan.
The façades are identical by twos, symmetrical and constructed according to specific rules of proportions, no differentiation is pursued between the front and the back and the same window/door size is employed. The plan’s geometry is not made evident in the elevations in any way.
The extreme synthesis, the reduction of elements (no decoration, no hierarchy, no style) makes evident Ungers’ obsessive research for the essence of architecture, which the architect identified in the strict rules of composition.
Artist Katie Holten—who participated in “Landscapes of Quarantine” a few years back—has just published an interesting book called About Trees.
It is essentially an edited compilation of texts about, yes, trees, but also about forests, landscapes of the anthropocene, unkempt wildness, altered ecosystems, and, more broadly speaking, the idea of nature itself.
It ranges from short texts by Robert Macfarlane—recently discussed here—to James Gleick, and from Amy Franceschini to Natalie Jeremijenko. These join a swath of older work by Jorge Luis Borges, with even Radiohead (“Fake Plastic Trees”) thrown in for good measure.
It’s an impressively nuanced selection, one that veers between the encyclopedic and the folkloric, and it has been given a great and memorable graphic twist by the fact that Holten, working with designer Katie Brown, generated a new font using nothing less than the silhouettes of trees.
Every letter of the alphabet corresponds to a specific species of tree.
This has been put to good use, re-setting the existing texts using this new font—with the delightful effect of seeing the work of Jorge Luis Borges transcribed, in effect, into trees.
This has the awesome implication that someone could actually plant this: a typographic forestry of Borges translations.
I’ll break them down, no mercy shown
Heaven knows it’s got to be this time
avenues all lined with trees
picture me and then you start watching