concept: Lie Down Architecture

Lie Down Architecture

© Jana Leo 2017-2015 New York

The work articulates around two items (Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand chaise longue 1929 and Simmons Co frame of electric mechanized bed). Both serve as one conversation reflecting hidden relations between these twin realities.


This is probably the most famous chair, but what is not that famous is what the chair resembled: a hospital bed. Here you will find an exploration of the undisclosed connection between hard realities (sickness and war) and the good life (wealth and luxury). The chaise lounge and the bed are used to lie down, but whereas the lounge accommodates the mind to daydream, the bed (in the hospital) accommodates those incapable of moving.

These two items connect the institutional and the individual: imprisonment and isolation.  Institutions (prisons, hospitals, bureau offices) do not work for the individual and we are detached from the world (death of the public man). These conditions results in bringing the institution home via furniture (a hospital bed transformed into a lounge chair, office furniture arriving to the living room) or in more radical situation where the prisoner is brought home (half-way house) from jail.

The Chaise Lounge is a good example of making tangible (a chair) something that is intangible (dreams). The Chaise Lounge became so famous because it represents the capacity (of architecture) to produce a mental object to daydream, not only a physical place to rest. The Chaise Lounge is a daydreaming machine, for the intangible. The panopticon is the last example of a prison typology that gives shape to the intangible. Self-control is promoted by the threat that somebody is watching from the tower of control. There is no architecture in prisons today but it is necessary because imprisonment is an intangible (deals with freedom, reflection, life and death) and therefore cannot be treated as a tangible business (incarceration industry).

Prisoners deprived of freedom, proper health, and wealth often are left only with the mental freedom to wander. Prisoners, deprived from freedom, proper health, and wealth often are left only with the mental freedom to wander. In the other hand, the non-prisoners discouraged by not having a position in the world, even when they can act they stay home and daydream as if they were prisoners.

Modern architecture (1929) set the principles of what “modern “ means: Isolation into the home, withdrawal from public arena, escapism (daydreaming) and in an abstract sense emphasis placed on making tangible the intangible: dreams. The chaise lounge became the apparatus for daydreaming, while Freud used psychoanalysis to uncover dreams by making the unconscious tangible.

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-Modern Architecture, while claiming that architecture is the machine for living, is characterized by placing the body in a horizontal or semi-horizontal position.   

(an excerpt)

… Supine is the daydreaming position for the mental trip, a limbo. It is also the position on board a spaceship while holding a remote control in virtual trips through Science Fiction. First class passengers lie down on airplanes. The inclination of a chair, it’s angle, relates to the kind of trip and its occupant. To lie down in an inclined chair is related to a mental trip, a framed trip, or a trip under certain control. A chair-bed, the psychiatrist’s couch, takes us on a trip to unnamed fears. Is architecture a machine for the body and mind to function or to fiction? Does architecture create space based on and for something tangible like functions, or based in fictions and metaphors?

Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand modeled the chaise longue (basing it on Thonet’s) as a machine for reclining. Midway between bench and bed, awake and asleep, the chair addresses function through difference and movement. Its articulated, bascule, chrome structure is clearly separated from the sitting area and the reclining surface is made of what the designers called “pony skin” (it was actually made out of cow leather). The chaise’s fiction is approached through its shape and skin. Is “pony” a metaphor for going on a ride? How was this metaphor different for Charlotte Perriand than for Le Corbusier? In Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier not only put several of these “chaise longues” throughout the house, but he built one on site made out of tile in the bathroom. However, neither can the chaise’s program be separated from its location, nor its structure from its padding. The chaise longue in the bathroom from furniture becomes architecture: not “a place to sit”, but “a place”. This achievement paid its price. The chaise’s original skin is gone, as is the articulation of its structure, and with them the knowledge of the difference of each body has disappeared. It is hard to make fiction with just a shape. The equilibrium between function and fiction, difference and abstraction is broken. Function is not substituted by fiction; it is just discarded. It is called rest.

Reclining sick minds and sick bodies: tuberculosis patients were laid out in the sun at mountainside sanatoriums. Later, it was found that the outdoor treatment made them sicker rather than better. Like the supine patients in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, they were on a trip with no return. Medicine and its accomplice, architecture, when treating the person just as an organism that functions, fails. While claiming healthy space, they promote sickness. In 1929 Thomas Mann wrote a letter to Doctor Freud referring to previous correspondence. In the same year Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s chaise longue was shown for the first time. Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s designed this chaise when Freud was seeing his patients on the couch in his home. Are there any letters between Thomas Mann or Freud and Le Corbusier or Charlotte Perriand? Why did Freud not ask his patients to lie down in Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s chaise lounge? One answer may be that to made connections between two events taking place at the same time in two disciplines is the biggest taboo. Another answer could be that there is no correspondence between the meaning of the chair for them: that for Freud any couch will do, and for Perriand and le Corbusier the singularity of the chair seems to be a priority. In any case for all three the chair was an icon of displacement.

Displacement may be the reason Freud chose a couch, such a domestic piece of furniture. The journey from psychiatry to psychoanalysis involves a transition from the hospital to the consulting room within a house, from an institutional setting to a homelike environment. The turn into the domestic also occurred at this time in architecture. The primary architectural edifice had been the public building, but it became the house. Le Corbusier brought institutional design (the office’s lack of decoration or objects) into the home (as a couch). Freud brought institutional practice (psychiatry) into the home, with its living room and couch (as psychoanalysis). …


 -Or the illusion of overcoming natural forces in Architecture, Fashion and Science Fiction.                          

(an excerpt)

… Architecture and science fiction construct, through disembodiment, a world in which time does not exist. In an attempt to trespass the ultimate human limitation – the finite nature of time – humans act as though a world were already constructed for a man who has no body and will never die. (This is the world of science fiction whose achievements architecture, without saying, tries to replicate.) The body is reduced to both its extremes, envisioned as either a mechanical device, perfectly articulated, in which each part has a form and performs functions; or it is envisioned as still, as a black box, with a form that doesn’t relate to what happens to it. Refusing its organic attributes, the body in science fiction (and architecture) is reduced to a mind, that fictions. This disembodiment redefines the notions of form-function-fiction and, in consequence, the concept of the machine.

In science fiction, disembodiment is explored in a body without weight, without gravity, gender, or food existing in endless time. In architecture, disembodiment is built through a contained and controlled atmosphere that gives the illusion of being outside of space, and therefore, outside of time. As we perceive, we inhabit space; the machine occupies it. The consequence of the fusion of man-machine is the disappearance of space: the machine doesn’t need more space than what its own size fills. The machine in science fiction is fused with the body, and the body with space. This implies the disappearance of space as emptiness. As a result architecture is useless, and at the same time free from function. Space is not linked to activity. For instance, from the modern reading of the office as the desirable space for work to the postmodern understanding of the office as a series of devices to wear, we have moved to the current reading of the office as a working mood with no place, no atmosphere, and no tools.

Architecture can no longer be understood as “a second skin” for the body, because there is no “first” skin. The body is no longer understood in layers, with the skin as te outside layer. The body is a reference. This disembodiment is present even in fields that deal directly with the body, like fashion. In fashion the idea of the dress, while related to the body, is not close to it physically or metaphorically. The body is referenced in fashion as fusion, diffusion, re-fusion and confusion.

A machine in contemporary culture functions not only to “save time” but also to operate on a fictional level “to construct time”. …



If the body doesn’t move much what is the point of looking at function?

If everything is in your mind: why act?

Jana Leo 2004-2005