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Adam Kalkin lectures at the Architectural Association

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High style and a social conscience; Kester Rattenbury is bewitched by the two sides to Adam Kalkin

Quik Build, Adam Kalkin’s ABC of Container Architecture, The Architectural Association, 30 January 2009

You could tell Adam Kalkin was an old AA hand.  An alumnus of the school and now a US-based architect, he launched his lecture with his own (violin) performance of John Cage’s silent ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’, The Beach Boys’ In My Room, and a long clip from a Jerry Lewis movie, The Ladies’ Man where immaculate women are choreographed around a cutaway house. Think Jacques Tati meets Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz.

Kalkin operates somewhere between conceptual art, performance art, financial speculation, high style and low cost house provider.  In one project, Adam Kalkin Day Trader, he borrowed $1m, traded on the stock exchange and recycled profits —$10k to a Tanzanian orphanage; $37, 258 into his Push Button House project; $1k left in a bag on a NYC bus and $1,200 into a reverse auction to get someone to change their name to Jerry Lewis.

The Push Button House is a shipping container which hydraulically folds out to become a luxury international style(ish) apartment. His Quik House is made of containers, stacked to form the ‘perfect’ family 3-bed house (several options available) turning containers to the highest of style: the bigger versions look like strange Palladian villas. At the other end of the scale, after Hurricane Katrina, Kalkin designed low-cost emergency housing; plans for neighbourhood streetplan and infrastructure as well as units.

You’re most likely to have seen his amazing house in Bunny Lane, New Jersey  - a sweet, clapboard old house rather scarily encaged in a big warehouse, which has rooms stacked like the Jerry Lewis set at one end. Inside consummate, ruthless styling mixes luxury (cheetah print carpets) and uncut raw materials (concrete, corrugate.)  

It’s brilliant, deadpan work, and hard to know whether it’s meant for rich or poor.  On one side, most of his houses are uber-style magazine work, albeit super-conceptualised. On the other, he’s opened a factory to manufacture container houses and is working on those emergency units. His work is incredibly self contained – a complete artistic performance – and could be hugely influential in opening up questions on manufacturing as well as style.  Either way, definitely worth watching.  Check out Quik-Build, his new book.

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