This article was originally published in Domus 958 / May 2012
The Louis M. apartment, designed by Philippe Rahm, may be situated within a renewal of architecture and its methodologies at an intersection with science. Rahm sustains that the relations between architectural practice and science are not part of a one-way movement sparked by the sciences to enrich architecture.
Rather, this apartment shows that they have integrated new circuits of exchange. The tone of the architecture is no longer set by post-modern narrative and accounts, but by the sciences and by the disciplines of knowledge, which give shape to a new geography of domesticity and architecture.
In search of this bachelor flat's message, one might even wonder whether the etiquette and sciences adopted by Rahm to forge a new architectural vocabulary might not also be subject to transformation.
Having acquired his first apartment, in the heart of Lyon's Confluences district and a stone's throw from the Gare Perrache, a young doctor entrusted its conception to the Swiss architect.
The 60-square-metre space, with its fine ceiling nearly 4 metres high, offered Rahm the opportunity to lay out a space according to the principle of convection. The Louis M. flat reconciles the strength of Le Corbusier's famous plan libre with the qualities of the 19th-century apartment, where spaces were conceived in relation to usage and the delimitation of the resulting rooms helped to preserve warmth without too much loss.
The canvas underlying this apartment's design is woven together by the interior environment — whose concept is informed by the revolution signalled in Reyner Banham's The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment in 1969, as well as the exhibition curated by Germano Celant at the 1976 Venice Biennale titled Ambiente/Arte, dal futurismo alla body art — and the links between science and architecture, which in the past 20 years have been increasingly highlighted.
For a better understanding of Rahm's proposition, it is worth considering the recent specific legal temperature recommendations, by now applicable to public and private buildings. These calculations arise from studies of the customs and dress habits of occupants, it being patently more convenient to have a higher temperature in the bathroom where the body is naked, than in a kitchen where one is more likely to be fully dressed while preparing a meal over a hot stove. But for Rahm, these recommendations, of interest chiefly from an ecological viewpoint, contrast in every respect with the architectural conception of the moderns, and with that famous open plan whose shortcoming was that it intermingled all the temperatures. Being unable to abandon the latter in favour of a return to the distribution of previous centuries, Rahm enters into a paradox while not wishing to give up either the ecological assets or the advantages of modernity.
The Louis M. apartment therefore responds to that squaring of the circle in its effort to reconcile the advantages of an open plan with necessary energy economies. By modelling the interior climate on the basis of recommendations, and prefiguring their psychological conditions in an apartment according to four opposing characteristics — damp, heat, cold and dryness — Rahm calculated the position of all the flat's systems and furniture.
In this stark white space, everything is absolutely
open. Floor heating causes the air to rise and the
furniture, placed on different levels according to
the layers of heating, escapes the idea of a high
or low, the right way round or a back to front.
The hierarchy and rules have disappeared: everything is atmospheric. Rahm lets the interior climate compose an inner landscape. The mechanisms of hot air, physiology and meteorology enable him to invent a new architectural language and to embrace a critical reformulation of the conventionally common practice of organised living. However, one's only objection to that requalification of spaces and their usage by scientific knowledge and its impact might be that the furniture design is not subjected to the same variations.
But the Louis M. apartment is not a surrealist work: it shows that Rahm is good at articulating the interferences between architecture, sciences and neurosciences, beyond dialogue between these different factors. He thus also affords a glimpse of a possible, wider and less identified influence of the imaginaries developed in labs and of their ultimate impact on our daily lives. By deconstructing usages under the aegis of the Celsius degree and departing from the staid social conventions of normal interiors, Rahm liberates architecture from bourgeois standards and values.
Philippe Rahm architectes: Louis M. apartment
Design Architects: Philippe Rahm architectes
Design Team: Renaud Pinet, Mathieu Bujnowskyj, Marina Huguet i Blasi
Site Supervision: André Souchko
Client: Louis Malachane
Total floor area: 60 m2
Cost: € 60,000
Design phase: 1/2011 — 6/2011
Construction phase: 9/2011—1/2012