The White House Redux

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words Justin McGuirck

The most powerful man in the world might not like it if you moved his oval-shaped office deep underground, but that is one proposal in a competition to redesign the White House.

There were nearly 500 entries to the White House Redux ideas competition held by New York's Storefront for Art and Architecture, and 200 of them went on show this month. The prize-winners proposed to turn the Commander-in-Chief's house into, respectively, a giant server, an earth mound and a computer game.

A high-powered jury - including Rhode Island School of Design president John Maeda, dean of the Columbia University School of Architecture Mark Wigley and architecture historian Beatriz Colomina - favoured the more polemical entries. "They preferred the more critical and dystopian proposals to the more formalist ones and those with a down-to-earth pragmatism about where the bedrooms should be," says the Storefront's director, Joseph Grima.

The winning proposal, which wins $5,000, is a beat-style poem and video work entitled Revenge of the Lawn. It portrays the White House not as a building but as a sinister post-apocalyptic landscape. "No one could really put their finger on what it had, but we kept coming back to it," says Grima.

Second prize went to another fiction-style work presenting 12 different White Houses - each a "cautionary tale" - that was a homage to 1960s radical group Superstudio. Third prize was shared between two proposals: one called White House 2.0, an interactive server collecting advice from around the world, the other an underground complex invisible from the air. In the latter, the president works at the base of an inverted pyramid - a metaphor for his accountability.

Finally, honourable mention went to an entry that turned the White House into a computer game, suggesting that the seat of American power should be more of an interactive experience.

Grima suggests that the jury's selection was influenced by the potential for sensationalist press coverage: "They wanted to distance themselves from anything too architectural because otherwise it might have been: ‘The dean of Columbia said this is a great building and should replace the White House.'"

Watch the video of the winning entry on iconeye.com

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