A chiselled white hot house

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Hot house.

Hot house.

A white house, and its negative, form a dwelling that we aren’t sure you should, or could, live in.

This house-as-icebox is in Leiria, Portugal, and was designed by Manuel Aires Mateus. It is one cool house – ice cool. White, white, white. A chiselled white box, a contemporary art gallery turned inside out. It looks almost unreal, a model, an extruded plastic chunk generated by a 3D printer. A child’s drawing of a house drained of colour and given a third dimension.

Scale is almost impossible to determine – is it a toy house or a warehouse? There are two floors above ground and, somewhat surprisingly, another one underground, about three times the size. Recesses in the carved block create the entry and a three-floor lightwell brings light below ground to the living rooms. Bedrooms open onto their own courtyards, also below ground, revealing views of the sky above (and stray bodies falling over the unprotected edge).

In spite of the white lightness and the wide recesses, the house appears impenetrable. All wall and no openings. Access denied. The pure white surfaces are simultaneously attracting and repelling. Are the walls to be stroked or avoided? If you licked it would your tongue get stuck? Would the presence of people pollute the house? Would they have to wear white? Occupation would corrupt this house, sully it.

This is a diagram of a house; a three-dimensional diagram, sophisticated and seductive. The published plans and sections are simply lines with no information. The house keeps its own counsel and gives nothing away. It refuses to be read. Its secrets – whatever they are – are safe here.

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