In conjunction with Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, Haus-Rucker-Co co-founder Günter Zamp Kelp gives an opening-weekend talk at the Walker Art Center on Sunday, October 25 and a free artist lecture at the University of Minnesota on Monday, October 26.
“Architects must cease to think only in terms of buildings.” The dazzling array of architectural inventions Austrian group Haus-Rucker-Co (“house movers”) affirms Hans Hollein’s plea in his 1968 Bau magazine essay, “Everything Is Architecture.” Founded in 1967 around a “Mind Expanding Program” (MEP), Haus-Rucker-Co aspired to extend people’s psycho-physical experiences through art and architecture. Hailing from Freud’s hometown, these Vienna-based architects were, unsurprisingly, fascinated with the “inner space” as much as with the physical built environment. Beyond buildings, Haus-Rucker-Co infused architectural principles—re: form, function, content, structure, space, effect, spectacle, and meaning—into expendable commodities, producing highly imaginative designs to, so the story goes, send their users on a psycho-physical journey.
This MEP began with Balloon for Two, a transparent PVC membrane that inflated into a large bubble. Supported by a steel rack, the sphere projected into the street from an existing building facade. Inside, a man and a woman sat in two halves of a plastic bathtub. Haus-Rucker-Co declared:
Our balloons will help you to discover an unknown feeling of tranquility, of security, of relaxation. And love. We want to heighten your sensitivity. You will take a journey. Together with someone you love. Into inner space. Like Astronauts. Only an inward trip. You will attain a higher level of thinking and loving…
Psychedelia permeated Haus-Rucker-Co’s language—love, relaxation, and tranquility—and aesthetic. With swirling colors, hallucinogenic imagery, and sounds, Balloon for Two’s bubble simulated the delusional mental space of a person on drugs. Architecture and the drug-hippie mentality coalesced in one form, one balloon.
Following that, Haus-Rucker-Co’s psychedelic excursion proceeded with Mind Expander Chair, in which the two halves of a plastic bubble in Balloon for Two evolved into a bucket seat for two. In place of the balloon was a large overhead PVC cover. No longer oriented side by side, the couple now sat with the woman on the man’s laps, their legs conspicuously entwined. In this position, the man would reach down the overhead cover and turn on the rhythm machine. A psychedelic journey then began.
Less cumbersome was Flyhead, a green-tinted polyethylene helmet with a set of stereo headphones and an eye-level interior split prism contoured to create a multi-image vista.
From Balloon for Two to Flyhead, these architectural objects with their special visual and acoustic effects upset our habitual perceptions of the physical reality, consequently heightening our awareness of our surroundings.
Besides bubbles, chairs, and helmets, there were mattresses. Giant Billiard consisted of a large white air cushion (50 feet by 50 feet) and giant vinyl beach balls (10 feet in diameter). The mattress filled a section of a Manhattan street (temporarily closed down for car traffic) from curb to curb. A brave crowd climbed, jumped, danced, somersaulted, stumbled, fell, and crawled about on it. This strange scene echoed the Surrealists’ image of “the meeting of umbrella and sewing machine on the dissecting table.” In this spatial phantasmagoria, two inapplicable images were shown through the same lens, superimposing one on the other with one showing through the other. Between a stream of car traffic and a bouncing crowd, the street straddled reveries and realism.
Equally fantastical was Haus-Rucker-Co’s edible conception, which began with Vanilla Future, a seven-foot-tall cake made of whipped chocolate and cream confection fashioned in a replica of a building. The architects claimed:
Future is for many people fearsome.
Full of cruel robots, mysterious rays and artificial catastrophes.
Future as we see is yellow—like vanilla ice cream.
Refreshing, sweet-smelling, and soft.
In 1970, Haus-Rucker-Co manipulated a cover of New York and published it in the Walker Art Center’s Design Quarterly (no.78/79, 1970). The original magazine cover featured a blond goddess, her moist red lips slightly parted, eyes accentuated with blue eye shadow and thick mascara. In each hand she held out an ice cream cone, covering the breasts of her otherwise naked body. “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Ice Cream But Were Too Fat To Ask,” read the accompanying text. The same sensual blond, same luscious ice cream (but in black-and-white), reappeared in Design Quarterly. However, the text now read “Haus-Rucker-Co’s” on the one side and “Vanilla Future” on the other. On the surface, the image with ice cream cones corresponded to their concept of “Vanilla Future” that imagined a sweet future like ice cream. Underneath, the image screamed “EXCESS!”
This concept of excess was exercised to its extreme in Haus-Rucker-Co’s Food City I, an edible scale-model of parts of Minneapolis, erected in the Armory Gardens of Walker (now the site of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden). Food City replaced bricks and mortars with butter and milk, glass and steel with flour and eggs. Roughly 8 feet by 15 feet and highly detailed, the edible construction used 50 loaves of assorted sliced bread (rye, pumpernickel, white, and Italian) and angel cakes, plus 150 cans of Betty Crocker ready-to-spread frosting and icing. The model accounted for both the suburban—including 900 tiny squares of white cake houses, frosted with yellow, pink and blue roofs—and the downtown cityscape, which included two high-rise apartment buildings of round angel food cake and office buildings of stacked pumpernickel bread with windows fashioned of cucumber and radish slices. The hedges were made of parsley sprigs, surrounded by slices of green pepper, and the trees were cherry tomatoes and olives on toothpicks. Additionally there were cream cheese streets and parking areas with borders of pickles and candy canes.
Haus-Rucker-Co reportedly spent a day and half to color, tint, chisel, stack, slice, spread, and shape Food City. “The city is killing itself with urban problems,” th architects said. “Food City [allows participants] the opportunity to destroy obsolescence by gobbling the city up.” Thus with Food City, Haus-Rucker-Co brought urban problems to the public’s attention in a delicious manner.
Succeeding Food City I, Haus-Rucker-Co built Food City II, an edible scale-model of Houston, Texas, and Central Park Cake, a 6 feet by 24 feet birthday-cake version of Central Park (to commemorate the 150th birthday of the park’s designer, Frederick Law Olmsted).
Haus-Rucker-Co’s edible, playable, and wearable architecture epitomized the idea of an ephemeral and expendable architecture. For Haus-Rucker-Co, everything—food, bubbles, chairs, helmets, mattresses, beds—is architecture.