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Gary Chang Suitcase House

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technical & practice

Edited by Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix. MCCM Creations, 2004. 167pp. £24.50 (in the UK from Art Data, orders@artdata. co. uk)

This book chronicles the development of the Suitcase House, built at the head of the Nangou Valley in China, which consists of an empty wooden 'shoebox', 44 x 5m, with multiple entrances but without walls or furnishings.

Rooms are simply tugged into existence using a pull-ring at the edge of a floor panel, raising any of the 50 moveable wooden panels on two pneumatic brackets. Beneath the shoebox are sunken, function-specific rooms - kitchen, WCs, library, sauna - accessed via pneumatic trapdoors.

Hong Kong-born and based architect Gary Chang of EDGE Design aimed to make maximum use of minimal space with the greatest possible flexibility. He designed the house as part of an experimental development project called Commune. The concept grew largely out of his own experience.

'The apartment he grew up in is the original seminal idea, a universal space that was partitioned through the addition of new panels every time a new member of the family was born, ' writes Liane Lefaivre in the introduction.

The book itself is very beautiful - shaped like the house itself, long and lean, printed in English and Chinese ideograms on smooth, creamy natural paper, and presented in a burnt-umber protective sleeve. It is filled with relief maps, photos, diagrams of how various elements of the house operate and musings by the architect on the use of space: 'I just don't want to churn out yet another comfortable home'. His turn of phrase is divertingly idiomatic, describing the house as 'a plane of sensual [p]leisure'.

What the editors call a 'luxury of scenarios' test out various permutations of the fungible walls, complete with tables showing the square meterage each achieves.

The editors and contributors designate Suitcase House as the philosophical heir to the work of architects such as Adolf Loos and Richard Neutra.

The house embodies, they explain, the ideas of writers such as Georges Perec, and - Paul Virilio's concept - incorporates speed, or time, as a fourth dimension to architecture.

Perhaps more coffee table than deeply analytical, Gary Chang Suitcase House is nonetheless a delightful book, demonstrating more than adequately with imagery what it only hints at in words.

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