Pearls in the City

Film review (2013) Damien Faure, Intercalary Spaces, 2012 and Jonathan Robinson, Skyhouse, 2013 for the AFFR – Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam

Still from Damien Faure’s, Intercalary Spaces, 2012

They are all located in the heart of global cities; in the case of Intercalary Spaces (Damien Faure, 2012) it’s Tokyo and in the case of the Skyhouse (Jonathan Robinson, 2013), it’s New York. But there are vast differences between inhabiting a fancy Manhattan apartment and living in a Tokyo ‘pet house’.

The Skyhouse, by architect David Hotson, is a luxurious penthouse on top of a historic Manhattan skyscraper. The density of the city around has no influence on the house, which expands generously over three levels, connected visually by a spiraling stainless steel slide. The architect has created a series of interesting corners, exposing the original steel structure, one of the first in the city. The cinematography has the feel of a glossy architectural magazine; we see no signs of life, everything is clean and designed to the detail, as if no one has inhabited this space yet. The only presence in this peculiar white cube is a model, whose airy, yet staged choreography is guiding us through the playful gestures of the architect.

Intercalary Spaces begins with an ornithologist explaining that crows may or may not use natural or human made materials in building their nests, depending on their taste, pretty much in the same way people choose where and how to lead their lives. Apparently, both humans and crows like living in the heart of the city and this metaphor forms the narrative thread of this documentary.
Referring back to the history of urban development in Tokyo, new streets have been cutting through old neighborhoods, leaving left over pieces of land that were consequently developed by their owners into amazingly well ordered and inventive miniature buildings, which help maintain a sense of human scale in the architecture of the global city. The lack of amenities inside the houses leads to the expansion of domestic life into the urban surroundings, in a way that strengthens the social interaction between neighbors. Through the stories of their architects and present inhabitants, we learn about the mastery of elevating these humble sites into highly efficient, yet exceptional examples of architectural design.

In short, while the Skyhouse is a film about an architect’s vision creating an enclosed private universe, Intercalary Spaces demonstrates that no matter how condensed a space is, it offers possibilities for everyone to benefit from.