Doktoratsprojekt künstlerische Forschung

Talking House

Hinnerk Utermann

Talking House consists of a series of buildings, each conceived as an experimental apparatus to study the phenomenon of proximity.

What is proximity? How can it be described, constructed, defined from a design and architectonic perspective? What are the intrinsic qualities of built situations that allow for proximity? How to build a situation that allows for proximity between two strangers? How is proximity experienced in different spatial configurations?

In order to respond to these questions, I devise an experimental apparatus that I call Talking house. Each of these “telling houses” bears an implicit knowledge – immaterial and material qualities with specific characteristics – that speaks for itself but also allows to communicate in specific ways. “Buildings” provide a limitation and framing through material, structure, size, orientation, lighting, etc. Talking House explores these boundaries and limitations to study spatial behaviour. Here I borrow methods from the field of proxemics. The concept of proxemics was coined and developed by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall and focuses on human spatial behavior. According to Hall’s intercultural theory, which is based on findings from biology and ethology, humans, like any animal, live embedded and in an interdependent relationship with their environment: “Man and his environment shape each other. Man is now in the position of actually creating the total world in which he lives, what the ethologists refer to as his biotope. In creating this world, he is actually determining what kind of organism he will be.” (Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension, 1966) Hall’s theory differentiates between four distance zones – intimate, personal, social, public – that surround humans like invisible bubbles. These intangible areas define a personal territory that is monitored and protected. Depending on the situation, social environment and cultural background, different distances are maintained. For Talking House, my aim is to develop my own system of built metrics and a protocol to describe proximity. To do so, I propose a series of buildings for two people with a specific proximity-distance-relationship.

My practice draws from the process of building itself. This building is based on my experience as an architect, craftsman, and researcher, and it is informed by the tacit knowledge of materials and tools. I mostly begin to build directly on site by using a reduced palette of tools (cordless screwdriver, Japanese saw) and a limited selection of materials (wood, screws, etc.) that are inexpensive and easy to work with. The constructions that serve as my research apparatus are made for gatherings of two people. I consider them to be models: Firstly, limitations in the manufacturing process lead to elementary solutions and a simple appearance that gives the buildings a model character (in the sense of a schematic representation of a more complex reality). Secondly, the buildings establish a specific form of proximity between two users. Thus, each Talking House is a model for proximity, a proxemic model.

So far, three buildings have been realized (Space Compartment OneHochsitzTalking House). Each represents a specific form of togetherness, offering space for a dual gathering between an invited guest and me, the host. These forms of togetherness can only be experienced in/with the building. The process of research is documented through protocols and the production of miniature models. In addition to the walk-in 1:1 model made of wood (the experimental apparatus), the scaled replicate or miniature model is made at a scale of 1:10. The reduction in size denies access and enables a distant view from a bird’s eye view; a de-distance.

Talking House departs from building-as-research. The building process and the buildings themselves as mediums for research take centre stage. Invited guests, friends or strangers – “the next” – become participants in an artistic research that deals with the modalities and materialities of built relations as specific constellation of proximity and distance. In this way, Talking House wants to contribute to current debates (social distancing) as well as to timeless discussions on spatial behaviour.