Figure 1: Invitation Card, Talking House, Hinnerk Utermann, Berlin 01.2020
A white hand cart is being pulled by One. The walking and wheeling comes to an end in an urban niche. Flat coloured pieces are pulled out of the cart. The cart itself is disassembled. All the white, red and blue components lay around. One starts to mount and stick pieces together. Wooden feet are joined to a rack. The box, the former case of the cart, is mounted on top of the rack and the boards attached to this base. One board after the other is put into place and fixed with screws and a screwdriver. A pretty little white cabin arises. Standing on four adjustable feet, it may be adjusted to any terrain. But what is it? The size is 1,50 m x 0,9 m x 1,20 m. It looks like a mixture of a space lander and a confessional box. There are doors but they look too small for an entrance, just 50 x 60 cm.
Now, two are entering by crawling, one from each side. Inside, there is a seat with a back rest, nothing more. The structure is similar to a confessional but without a hierarchy between the priest and the sinner, as is normally found in a religious box. Only the red and blue of the compartments distinguish the symmetry of the Talking House. Separated by a dividing wall, the two press their ears against it. The talking is a whispering and cannot be heard outside. It is a privilege of the Two sitting close together, almost touching each other, but separated by a 1mm thick plywood wall, the body heat can be felt. The space between the body and the surface is very little and the temperature rises from the heat of the bodies. The outside noise enters the inside and overlap the talking.
After one hour the Two are leaving the box, stiff from the motionless posture and dazzled from the sun. One is walking away, while the other One is transforming the Talking House back to the hand cart and is pulling it into the lively streets of Tel Aviv.
Figure 2: Talking House (Handcart), Tel Aviv, 24.03.2020, Photo by Hinnerk Utermann
Talking House is a series of experimental architectural projects. This practice-based-research uses restrictive spaces to examine proximity. At the limit of what can be considered as architecture, these spaces are designed for two people to have a conversation (usually myself as the host, and an invited guest or interested stranger). By restricting the space to the minimum, this work emphasises the human interaction within. Every whisper, breath or gesture is enlarged, made conscious in the awareness of both participants. In contrast to the conversational space within, Talking House III is situated in the public space of the city. In this regard, it can be considered as a spatial instrument to experience and reflect upon states of ‘being together’ from close to distant relations.
Proxemics is the study of how people structure the space around them. This topic was coined by Edward T. Hall, an American cultural anthropologist. According to Hall everybody owns invisible bubbles around their Body and observes and protects them. Violators of the personal bubbles are considered intruders and cause the person to become defensive. Hall had established four distances zones: Intimate distance, Personal distance, Social distance and Public distance 1. The physical distances use biometrical concepts to categorise and explain how people interact in space, such as kinaesthetic factors, haptic- visual-, thermal-, olfactorial codes and voice loudness. While smelling, whispering and touching relate to closer relations, the visual and the use of loud noise belongs to more distant relations.
An exhibition of the artwork of the artist Absalon at KW (Kunstwerke, Berlin) was a starting point for this PhD project. The series Cellules are sculptural shelters that Absalon constructed as a constraint, to shape his behaviours. Built precisely to his proportions, the interior space severely restricted and even dictated his movements 2. Similarly, Talking House uses restricted space as a critical starting point, but rather than a solitary ascetic activity, it offers a communal moment for two participants, to share a spatial situation of proximity. (whatever known or unknown relation the two have). The experience of participating can be either gentle or confronting, and may provide a significant and intense experience for both individuals.
Figure 3: Talking House, Tel Aviv, 24.03.2020, Photo by Hinnerk Utermann
As an architect I am interested in the effect space has on its inhabitants. Within architectural education and practice, this knowledge remains under-represented. Each Talking House draws upon examples that perform similar functions, such as the Japanese tea house, hunting hides, and the catholic confessional (without assigning a clear function). This project offers the possibility to examine the ways in which proximity affects human interaction from personal to public scale. For this conference I will give an overview of my work, present the latest Talking House and discuss the following questions:
- How do we broaden our understanding of the qualities of proximity?
- To what extent do these conversational spaces affect the human encounter within?
- How do they spatially re-calibrate the individual in a communal moment?
- And how is proximity affected through the use of different materials and spatial design
- Hall, Edwart T. (1966), The Hidden Dimension, Garden City, New York
- Pfeffer, Susanne, (2011), Absalon, exhibition “Absalon” at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 28.11.2010 - 20.02.2011, König, Köln