John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The off-the-grid solar home would imperceptibly spin on its central axis, providing fresh views with each season.
A big, rubber kickball that’s been blasted with a shotgun and is in the process of deflating—that’s what we could all soon be living in, to believe the winner of a design competition envisioning the “house of the future.”
The “Hollywood” contest, put on by the Denver-based architectural-research group Arch Out Loud, invited architects and visionaries to submit concepts for a revolutionary single-family domicile that uses environmentally friendly technology. The house would sit on a parcel of land right below the famous HOLLYWOOD sign, owned by a New York dentist who grew up in California named Steve Alper. “The idea for a competition came from Steve recognizing that such a prominent location needs a story, and its design should make a statement beyond another luxury home in the Hollywood Hills,” says Arch Out Loud’s Nick Graham. “The location can serve as a platform and its architecture a precedent for sustainability, future lifestyle, and iconic architecture.”
Out of 500 entries, local firm Hirsuta emerged victorious with its concept for an “Ambivalent House,” which definitely satisfies the competition’s request for innovation. For one thing, it spins: Hidden mechanical systems would gradually rotate its outer husk—perhaps 360 degrees over the course of a year—so passersby would never see it the same way twice.
Water and gas lines would run up a fixed core, but energy would come from its solar-panel-covered shell, allowing the occupants to live off-the-grid. Parts of this photovoltaic skin would be translucent, forming shimmery curtains that paint the inside rooms with dappled sunlight.
If this all sounds weird, it’s meant to. The folks at Hirsuta write:
This neighborhood surely ranks among the strangest in Los Angeles: a natural landscape that seems both near and far, the world-famous sign that happened by accident, a gigantic radio tower, and coyotes. Strangest of all are the people, mostly strangers-cum-tourists to the site milling about the front of the house to take photographs. In a case like this it seems best not to measure against any of this context directly or on its terms, as if to compete with the sign with yet another sign. Instead the house must be a thing apart from these other things, in the same way they are themselves, in order to stand among them.
“After thinking quite a bit about the competition brief, which seemed almost too balanced in its weighting of objectives, we decided that the project was really mostly to do with iconicity,” says Hirsuta’s founder, Jason Payne. “We tackled that problem in a rather sideways kind of way, creating a form that is basically an empty signifier.”
So will this spinning house-blob ever see the light of day? It could, to believe Graham of Arch Out Loud. “It may be the realization of a particular proposal, or it may be a combination of ideas that were submitted to the competition,” he says. “The Hollywood competition is a forward-thinking design exercise, with construction in its future.”
The runner-up design winners are no less strange: They include a home with an “organic vein” sheltering a lovely pool and another shaped like an immense white Krispy Kreme. Have a look at some of them below, starting with a couple “Hollywood Hill” by FGO Arquitectura, “The Last House” by YBDD and NHD, and finally “Eclipse” by A2.0 Studio di Architettura.