In the Fun House with Snarkitecture
The wacky design firm’s new Washington exhibition is a home (far) away from home.
There’s something weird lurking beneath the towering Corinthian columns of the National Building Museum, in Washington D.C. An all-white, full-scale foam house—complete with picket fence, basketball hoop, and a pool deck—has been installed in the museum’s monumental Great Hall. This is Fun House, the latest project from Snarkitecture, the New York-based architecture firm cum public art studio. But this house is certainly not a home: it’s mostly foam, it’s partly disintegrating, and every corner serves to spark imagination. “A house is the ultimate familiar experience—an icon of architecture,” says Snarkitecture cofounder Alex Mustonen. “Now we’re opening the house to exploration.”
Mustonen started Snarkitecture in 2008 with fellow Cooper Union alum Daniel Arsham as a way to combine their passion for both art and architecture. The name comes from Lewis Carroll’s 1876 poem, “The Hunting of the Snark,” which tells of a whimsical cast of misfits on a journey to find an “inconceivable creature” using a blank map. It’s an apt metaphor for the firm’s sometimes quixotic, often whimsical, and always monochromatic installations that explore concepts of space and structure.
“We’re on the periphery of architecture,” says Mustonen. “We work on projects that are architecturally driven, but we aren’t an architecture firm. And we play with ideas of art, but we’re not fine artists.” Their large-scale works over the past decade have ranged from a perception-altering white corridor in Columbus, Ohio, to a “beach” filled with thousands of plastic balls, which has been exhibited from Tampa to Sydney. They’ve also created stage sets for Merce Cunningham, made “furniture” that looks like it’s falling apart, and designed retail spaces for hip brands like COS and Kith.
This year, Phaidon published a monograph examining Snarkitecture’s works, with an introduction by Milan-based curator and journalist Maria Cristina Didero, who also curated Fun House at the Building Museum. The exhibit allows viewers to experience many of the firm’s best known environments. Approaching the front door, visitors realize the seemingly-perfect house is actually crumbling away. Sneakers dangle from the ceiling of the central hallway; the “living room” comprises a pillow fort with inflatable vinyl cylinders for a ceiling; and in the “backyard,” deck chairs surround a kidney-shaped pool filled with plastic spheres. Nearly everything is constructed from white foam, disconnecting the familiar forms from their typical functions, and allowing visitors to view them in a new light.
“The whole process should open up visitors’ sense of strangeness,” says Mustonen, who describes the Building Museum’s family-heavy audience as a “natural fit” for Snarkitecture’s work. “We’re playful, and we invite everyone to be playful, too.”
Fun House is on view in the National Building Museum through September 3, 2018.
Snarkitecture (Phaidon, 2018) is available in bookstores now.