Architecture and Happiness

Car drivers who don’t read traffic signs but find their way with the help of points of recognition and buildings along the roadside will have to be extra careful from April 4 onwards. That’s when the Revolving House starts turning on the Hasselt roundabout in Tilburg. The idea for this house that revolves with the traffic comes from John Körmeling, who will also build the Dutch pavilion for the Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Tilburg is another town with ambitious plans to present itself as a place of culture, and so it asked Körmeling to make a work of art. As an ode to the terrace house with through living room, the Eindhoven architect came up with a version that rides on rails. Körmeling hopes that the project makes people think differently about how we live.

The house is a genuine four-wheel drive object. Its four wheels are powered by electric motors. These motors are driven by a sliding contact that is connected by an inner rail to solar panels positioned near the roundabout. Körmeling initially wanted the house to turn at the same speed as the traffic on the roundabout, but safety concerns forced a reduction in speed to 1 rotation every 20 hours. It therefore won’t happen very often that you’re overtaken by a freestanding house as you wait for the lights to turn green. Attached to the side – or is it the front? – of the house is a bumper with a sensor that switches off the electric motors if the wind becomes too strong or if something or someone unexpectedly ends up on the rails. Who wants to be run over by a house?

The Revolving House is a serious dwelling that, technically at least, is inhabitable. The form is modelled on the illustrious house type that has been so dominant in the Netherlands since the 1960s. The dimensions are similar to an average terrace house with through living room, and it boasts a bay width of 5.10 metres. The floor-to-ceiling height on the ground floor is generous. The house is well isolated against heat and cold. The 6-cm-thick walls consist of brick slips and polyurethane panels fixed to steel tubes (40×40 mm), and the inner surface is finished in plasterboard. The structure is an improved version of the T-House that Körmeling designed for Park Valkenberg in Breda (2002). The main bearing structure consists of steel T-profiles (also 40×40 mm). The roof is covered with one of the better Dutch roof tiles. Interior walls are left out to maximise the through-view effect. Furniture is also absent so that it doesn’t look like a model home. In the evening the house will be illuminated from within. The house boasts front and back gardens of artificial grass that also revolve. The roundabout itself is planted with grass.

The ideal of finding happiness in your own street is also a theme of the pavilion that the Government Architect commissioned from Körmeling for the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The theme of this world exhibition is ‘Better City, Better Life’. According to Körmeling, happiness begins in your own street, in your own home and with your neighbours. The idea behind Happy Street, therefore, was to bring together a mixture of functions in a certain density so that a community results. Within the allotted plot, Körmeling designed a 450-metre-long meandering street lined by famous works of Dutch architecture. There are replicas of the Cineac cinema by architect Duiker, a building by Dudok and a terrace house with through living room by Maaskant. The structure of the building is comparable to that of the Revolving House with the added advantage that you can enter Happy Street. On display inside are all sorts of Dutch inventions that make life easier.

Körmeling does not want the pavilion to look like a forced version of Dutch reality and so he deliberately chose to make the surroundings from artificial grass and fake water. There is also a connection to the Chinese context of this pavilion. The central element of Happy Street is located in a building shaped like a lotus leaf and housing the VIP lounge. The form was inspired by the crown of the Westin hotel in Shanghai. The red colour of the street paving refers to the Chinese tradition in which red stands for happiness.

For the time being, as we wait for the Shanghai pavilion, we have to make do with the Revolving House. The nearby Postelse Hoeve hotel has already applied to open a bridal suite in the house. That will require a little creativity on the part of municipal official on duty because the building doesn’t fully comply with the building regulations (for example, there’s no connection to the sewer system). But let that not adversely affect the happiness of people.