words William Wiles
I'm Lost In Paris is a private house in the French capital designed by radical architect R&Sie(n). Hidden in a courtyard in an undisclosed location, the house is swathed in ferns, hiding it like a birdwatcher's lookout. Amid the greenery are bulbous glass vessels, the project's strange ecological edge - a bacteria farm.
The three-storey house took on its form over five years as it tussled with the French planning system. In France, construction in courtyards has to be approved by two-thirds of the residents of the surrounding buildings. So R&Sie(n) draped the house in camouflage - and couldn't resist adding a dark, experimental edge.
"It was an opportunity for me to do something which seemed very naively moralistic as green architecture," says R&Sie(n) principal François Roche, "but also to integrate into the design an alchemical aspect, something which is producing scariness."
The house's shroud of 1,200 ferns is fed by hydroponic tubes which carry water from the roof to the plants. There are 300 glass "beakers", as Roche calls them, which contain a solution of water and rhizobia, a kind of bacteria. These "brew" in the sunlight and are harvested in summer. The rhizobia are then fed in small quantities into the ferns' substrate, where they assist the plants in fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere. It's a natural process that has been made visible and explicit, producing for Roche a delicious ambiguity: "People don't know if it's Darth Vader or Yoda, something gentle or something a little bit nasty, a little bit dangerous."
It's a project that appeals to Roche's subversive view of "green" architecture. "Do we want nature to be domesticated and purely sympathetic and predictable," Roche asks, "or do we want nature which brings some aspect of fear or danger or psycho-repulsion?"
The beakers are hand-blown by craftsmen into a steel mesh, which makes each one subtly different. Roche signed a confidentiality agreement with project client, a family of four, and cannot reveal details of the house's location. It is indeed lost in Paris.
You can read François Roche in conversation with graphic novelist Warren Ellis and blogger Geoff Manaugh in icon 075, out later this week.
top image The plants and beakers provide a second skin for the house.
image The glass beakers “brew” bacteria.
image The house is in a courtyard in an undisclosed location in Paris.