Venice Biennale of Architecture: Koolhaas Houselife


The blockbuster of the Venice Biennale of Architecture is a quirky 58 minute film by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine.

Koolhaas Houselife visits one of the masterpieces of contemporary architecture: the Maison à Bordeaux designed in 1998 by Rem Koolhaas / OMA.


The Dutch architect designed this house on three levels with moving walls and sliding floors. The lower level is carved from the hillside as a series of caverns, and serves for communal family life. The middle level of glass is designed to accommodate the husband, who is confined to a wheelchair. The third level is divided into sections for the husband, wife, and children. At the center of each level is an elevator platform that moves up and down between levels.

The movie engages with the Biennale’s theme ‘Out there – architecture beyond buildings’ by trying to uncover what happens after a house that has been plastered all over the glossy magazines is left in the hands of the owners.


The peculiarity of the movie is that it presents this icon of contemporary architecture through the eyes of Guadalupe Acedo, the cleaning lady, and the other people who look after the building. The charming and devoted cleaning lady struggles with the heavy curtains, the narrow staircase, the either oddly shaped or gigantic glass panels, etc. Clearly this house has not been designed for the people who have the bad idea to live outside of architecture magazines. Once in a while you can hear Guadalupe whisper gems such as: ‘If I had money, I would not build a house like this.’


One of the highlights of the video is this snippet of interview which shows a Koolhaas surprised by Guadalupe’s take and treatment of his building: ‘You see here two systems colliding: the system of the platonic conception of cleaning with the platonic conception of architecture.’

Meet Guadalupe as she goes up the open lift :

This way for trailer 2.

I’m with you Guadalupe! i lived 3 years in an ‘architectural masterpiece‘, waking up to the sound of tourists ringing my doorbell to get a sneak peek at the inside of the house, trying to figure out where to buy furniture that would fit the stupidly curvy walls and being burgled every single year because the alarm system was so delicate that we had to turn it off most of the time for fear that it would drill holes through the heads of the whole neighbourhood when we got up at night to visit the bathroom.

Guadalupe’s experience also reminded me of the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein. I visited the place a few years ago with a local guide who explained us that it had been designed by Zaha Hadid as a working firehouse within the Vitra furniture design and manufacturing complex. However, the firemen found the building impossible to live and work in. Now the edifice is used by Vitra as a showplace for part of its permanent collection of chairs. Looks great on images though!

Check out Gizmodo’s interview with Ila Bêka. And if you’re in the neighbourhood, the Venice Biennale of Architecture is screening the movie in a stuffy little room of the Italian Pavilion until November 23, 2008.

Edgar Gonzalez is preparing a tour of Spain for the movie but the dates of the screenings have not been released yet. Stay tuned!