Newcastle Station Clock

Newcastle Station Clock

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Cave 2.0

Next up in my series of "small conceptual projects that are poorly thought through and even more poorly explained" (I'll come up with a snappier name if I do a third in the series) is this funny looking bubble, via Bit Rebels. First things first, it's basically a plastic bubble, containing one room and a porch, and with no visible structure to speak of, I can only assume it's inflated a little bit like a bouncy castle, with the constant pumping of air also acting as ventilation. The design is, predictably, meant to connect us with nature - and more strangely, to question our relationship with our "boxes of loneliness", known to the non-poetic among us as 'houses'.

It needs to be said straight away that this is not a completely novel concept. It was pretty much the pet project of the Modernists, bringing the outside inside. The most complete (and therefore most relevant) examples were Mies Van Der Rohe's Farnsworth house and Philip Johnson's Glass House. In my opinion PJ's attempt was better, thus showing that he had learnt from Mies' earlier try and improved upon it. Sadly, Pierre Stephan Dumas' attempt does not seem to be a further improvement. In fact, it goes so far against the grain of 'improvement' that I have decided I need to categorize my objections, for fear that this could turn into an incoherent rant. So here goes:

(note: since starting writing this post, I have done more research and found that these bubbles are intended to be rented out for one or two nights, like a fancy camping holiday. So please bear in mind that some of these criticisms ought to be directed more at the writing of the article on Bit Rebels, which concentrates on their potential as "a wonderful form of transparent living")


Both Mies and Johnson had the foresight to realise that people poop, and thus both included a toilet in their design. Dumas has not. I think that's a pretty major problem, perhaps only because I have tried both pooping in the toilet and pooping in the woods, and I much preferred the former. In fact I preferred it so much that I would say I probably do over 99.9% of my pooping in toilets. So for me, this style of accommodation would really lose its appeal not long after my first meal.

Scratch that, it would lose it's appeal as I have my first meal, as another thing Dumas has decided is not important for living is a kitchen. Now I'm not saying that hot meals are as important to me as pooping in a toilet, but it's nice to have a choice, y'know? On the other hand, the application of heat to a plastic bubble with no fixed structure could be catastrophic, so if you're intent on living in touch with nature and find glass and steel just too low-tech, perhaps the kitchen is a necessary omission.

The Concept

The Concept, at least as it's presented on Bit Rebels, is to question people's attachment to their brick/stone/wood houses and connect them to nature. And, as I said before, it is presented as potentially "a wonderful form of transparent living". This is stupid. People are attached to solid houses for a number of psychological reasons, most notably for the sense of safety they provide - this feeling would not be provided by an inflatable plastic bubble.

Also, I have an issue with the construction. Because these things are inflated, at least one of the doors has to be closed at all times. This means that although you can see the surroundings, you can't throw open the doors, let the wind through and have the same sort of inside/outside summertime living that you can experience in, say, a house. Ironically, whilst the sense of sight might be very much in touch with nature, this bubble forces every other sense to be completely detached.

Other issues with this transparent living are highlighted by the first and last lines in the article, which I think ought to be included in full:

"The world has some beautiful scenery to show us, if we’re at the right place at the right time"


"So, in with your furniture and make sure you place the bubble in a pristine location. Your life could generate all the inspiration you ever need."

My problem here is that living in a "pristine location" is very inconvenient. We've just recently reached the point where over half of the world's population live in cities, and the reason for that is largely convenience. Putting this bubble in the middle of say, Brooklyn, would be very unpleasant, partially because what you would see is not the milky way or natural environment but smog, and partly because passers by would watch you change. So this type of living has to be done in a wood, or on top of a mountain. You want to buy food from a shop? Tough, learn to hunt for your food. Want to live close to your job? You won't have time for work, not with all the hunting you'll be doing. This is Cave 2.0 bitch, get used to it. Funnily enough, the final sentence of the article is actually true, your life will generate all the inspiration you ever need... because how much inspiration do you need to slaughter wild animals and poop in a bush?

But, this is not the real concept. Mr. Dumas' original concept was intended to be compared more to a tent than a home, so much of this criticism is not warranted (here's a warranted criticism though - it costs about £400 to hire one for a single night). So, then, on to the real criticism:

The Article

Richard Darell has, to start with, completely misunderstood the potentials of the design. He seems more concerned with writing pretentious, 'future-solutions' architectural bullshit than actually engaging with the realities of the project. Consequently, his article makes Mr. Dumas look like an absolute idiot, and even worse reinforces the stereotype of the architect as a man who finds solutions for problems that never existed, and floats around with his head in the clouds, never engaging with 'real world' issues. Thus, I consider it my duty as an architect* to redress the internet's karmic balance by making Mr. Darell, in turn, look moronic.

"It's quite interesting that humans still cling to the housing of 4 solid walls". For the second article in a row, the author has tried to tell me that something is interesting, and for the second time in a row, I disagree. This 'clinging' to solid walls is actually the most natural impulse in the world, fuelled by needs and desires such as safety, privacy, solidity and a desire to appropriate one's home (you can't hang pictures on glass or plastic).

"What kind of lifestyle is that [living in a solid home] when you really think about it?" Well, as you can see, I have thought about it, and I've decided that it's actually quite preferable. For example, right now it's raining outside. Fortunately, I have only one window in my bedroom and, preferring not to be reminded of the miserable weather, I have closed the curtains. What solid homes give you is options. Including the option, if you feel so compelled, of actually going outside. What transparent homes do is force you to live with nature, even if that nature currently includes a mountain lion which threatens to pop your inflatable, see-through home to access the yummy goodness cowering inside.

"boxes of loneliness". This is a VERY odd description for the traditional house, especially when considering the alternative proposed by this article. I currently live with 3 other people. Having just graduated 2 days ago, our house has been inundated with friends and family; I think at one point we had 18 people in our living room. In the past few days, I have not felt lonely once. Having never made friends with a tree, however, I wonder how lonely it would be to live in a one-bedroom bubble in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, real wildlife is not as friendly as it is portrayed in old Disney films.

"one of those genius ideas that puts things into perspective". Now I've always had a problem with people who overuse the word 'genius'. It's just another part of our hyperbolic culture, that being 'clever' doesn't seem like enough, so too many things get described as 'genius'. Then when something very clever comes along, we are forced to qualify it with something like 'completely genius', and then when any true genius arrives, we are forced to say something like 'absolutely, truly, genuinely genius', which linguistically speaking is a ridiculous redundancy, and makes us look stupid even as we are describing something incredibly clever. So always remember that if you use the word 'genius', it really ought to mean that there are few things you can think of that are more clever than this. Which really can't be applied to Dumas' bubble.

"With time, this could be developed into something really unique". I'm not even sure what Richard Darell means here, but he's definitely wrong. If he means the entire bubble tent idea, there's already a number of this design scattered across France. If he means a transparent home in touch with nature, as mentioned the idea is indebted to the modernist movement. The actual function of the design is essentially the same as a tent. It is a new twist on a number of things, however I would not describe it as unique. Again, unique is a much overused and misunderstood word. It is not even necessarily an indicator of good quality. Many things are unique because repeating them would be a catastrophic mistake. Even using the phrase "really unique" is stupid - I know it's quite common but think about it - unique: "there is only one"; really unique: "there is really only one". There is no way anything can be varying degrees of unique, so why use the word 'really'?

So there you have it. This article really sums up my problems with a lot of the architectural community right now: the projects themselves might be mediocre, but the media coverage is usually even worse. If it's not lazily reproducing the architect's self promoting press release, it's all lies, misrepresentation and hyperbole - reflecting negatively on the individual project and the profession as a whole.

*I am legally obligated to make clear that I am not in fact an architect, as I have only completed a BA in Architectural Studies, equivalent to the RIBA part 1 exam, and not the full RIBA part 3 exam.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. My one thing to add would be that this style of living would be much better if it was a room in a zorb. Then you could commute to work with your home or pop down to the shops in it, (or a nearby public convenience). This of course would allow you to live in a somewhat, more normal way!


  2. I agree on the problem he's brought up about living with nature.

    But I think the far more elegant solution to his problem of bringing the outdoors inside is to just put on a coat and stand outside. simples.

    In a world running out of building space, I prophesise people wearing...coats.

    Yours truly, architects conscience

  3. I would like to point out to readers of this blog that Architects Conscience isn't just making a joke here - he practices what he preaches. For example, given a choice between sleeping in a caravan, or sleeping in a tent, he chose sleeping outside. True story.

    We at Archiendo are all about our principles.

  4. Maybe I should do that for an article. "Wearing My House - The modern tortoise."

    I'll design and build a "house" then wear and live in it for a month.