The Crazy Awesome Immortality House That No-One Lives In

April 4th, 2008at 06:00pm Posted by Eli

Eric Striffler / NYT

Even if it didn’t extend my lifespan, I would still totally want to live here:

THE house is off-limits to children, and adults are asked to sign a waiver when they enter. The main concern is the concrete floor, which rises and falls like the surface of a vast, bumpy chocolate chip cookie.

But, for Arakawa, 71, an artist who designed the house with his wife, Madeline Gins, the floor is a delight, as well as a proving ground.

As he scampered across it with youthful enthusiasm on a Friday evening in March, he compared himself to the first man to walk on the moon. “If Neil Armstrong were here, he would say, ‘This is even better!’ ”

Then Ms. Gins, 66, began holding forth about the health benefits of the house, officially called Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa). Its architecture makes people use their bodies in unexpected ways to maintain equilibrium, and that, she said, will stimulate their immune systems.

“They ought to build hospitals like this,” she said.


In 45 years of working together as artists, poets and architects, they have developed an arcane philosophy of life and art, a theory they call reversible destiny. Essentially, they have made it their mission — in treatises, paintings, books and now built projects like this one — to outlaw aging and its consequences.

“It’s immoral that people have to die,” Ms. Gins explained.

The house on Long Island, which cost more than $2 million to build, is their first completed architectural work in the United States — and, as they see it, a turning point in their campaign to defeat mortality.


In addition to the floor, which threatens to send the un-sure-footed hurtling into the sunken kitchen at the center of the house, the design features walls painted, somewhat disorientingly, in about 40 colors; multiple levels meant to induce the sensation of being in two spaces at once; windows at varying heights; oddly angled light switches and outlets; and an open flow of traffic, unhindered by interior doors or their adjunct, privacy.

All of it is meant to keep the occupants on guard. Comfort, the thinking goes, is a precursor to death; the house is meant to lead its users into a perpetually “tentative” relationship with their surroundings, and thereby keep them young.


For Arakawa, reversible destiny is about more than just a state of mind. By way of example, he described the experience of elderly residents of a building in Mitaka, Japan, that the couple recently designed. Having to navigate a treacherous environment — in some cases by moving “like a snake” across the floor — has, in fact, boosted their immune systems, he claimed. “Three, four months later, they say, ‘You’re so right, I’m so healthy now!’ ”

Like many of Arakawa and Gins’s assertions, it’s hard to know just how seriously this one is meant to be taken. Even those closest to the couple disagree about what they really believe.


One of their first built architectural projects, a park in central Japan called “Site of Reversible Destiny,” was completed in 1995. Made up of acres of warped surfaces, it offers visitors advice, in a handout leaflet, like “Instead of being fearful of losing your balance, look forward to it.” (Several people who are said to have broken bones there might wish the name of the park were literally true.)


The finished house consists of four rectangular rooms surrounding a free-form living space. The walls are made of various materials including metal and translucent polycarbonate, which admits a gentle light; the floor is made in a traditional Japanese style, using hardened soil, here mixed with a little cement. For those who aren’t especially sure-footed, there are a dozen brightly colored metal poles to grab on to.

The absence of internal doors creates a dramatic flow — and seemingly insoluble privacy problems. “You make your own privacy,” Ms. Gins said, cryptically. In fact, there are hooks in the ceiling, and someday the house could be festooned with curtains or other dividers.

I had to leave out lots of good stuff, like their philosopher friend who wrote a paper about what his cat might think of Bioscleave House, so be sure to read the whole thing, and check out the slideshow.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Weirdness

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