Beauty Walks a Razor’s Edge

30 March 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — evansaskin @ 9:56 pm

It’s very easy to ignore this blog for a while. There have been a continuous stream of unreported developments of late which I’ll start digging into now.


My thesis is focusing in on three related streams of water – domesticity,cleanliness, and urbanization. I’ve been looking at two significantly divergent scales – the individual/home and the infrastructural. Or as another taxonomy to try out, I’ve been looking at issues of cleansing on the one hand and issues of thirst on the other.

For another class (on material culture) I’ve been digging into bathroom fixtures and doing a lot of thinking on the toilet, the construction of cleanliness in Modernism and the commodification of cleanliness. Adolf Loos’ essay “On Plumbing”, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, fetishization of bathroom fixtures. This opens up the door to a world of art projects (starting with Duchamp’s Fountain), to a world of industrial design (this waterless washing machine capitalizes on negative ionization to eliminate the need for detergents or water  It’s a vast ocean.

Duchamp’s Fountain

Kohler Hatbox Toilet with model

To return to architecture – Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye has a very prominent sink in the foyer.  It acts as a threshold, a signifier of cleanliness that you must pass in order to enter/exit the villa.  This is a move with broad religious precedents – Jewish, Muslim and Catholic ceremonies for ablution and ritual cleansing abound – but as a domestic fixture the sink has never figured so prominently.  It belongs in the back of house and is tied to ritual and to labour – to cooking and cleaning.  (see Gidieon’s MECHANIZATION TAKES COMMAND and its last chapter on “the mechanization of the bath”)

Colin Rowe points out that this particular sink never holds soap or towels however.  It is not used for the physical act of cleansing and thus he suggests (and I quote loosely) that in this house which is in fact a temple, this sink is a font of holy water.  A powerful notion to be sure.  Heroic modern architecture inspired heroic modern criticism which typically fails to account for individuation and idiosyncracy (bless the broad sweeping unsubstantiations which blogging permits).  This house was inhabited for a time (see Tschumi for details on the degeneration and defacement of the villa through the 60’s and 70’s – shit smeared on the walls, piss on the floors, broken windows).  An alternative reading of the sink is offered by Nadir Lahiji & DS Friedman (in”At The Sink” in PLUMBING, available in it’s entirety here  Rather than being a place to wash your hands, they suggest, the sink is an evocation of cleanliness at the threshold.  It is there to clean your eyes and confront you with the progressive image of architecture and cleanliness – the modernity of indoor plumbing.

Villa Savoye Approach to Entrance Sink


1 Comment »

  1. This is really cool, I read At The Sink two semesters ago for a class on infrastructures. The sink at the Villa Savoye is pretty remarkable, I’d love to go there some day. I am a student at the California Institute of the Arts studying fine art in my last semester. A lot of my recent work has to do with water and the home, shoot me an e-mail and I’d be happy to send you some images of my work. Have you read Ignasi de Solà-Morales’ Liquid Architecture? I highly recommend it. I’d love to see what you’ve been reading and what your final thesis turned into.

    Comment by Dan Bruinooge — 20 February 2013 @ 4:19 am

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