Thursday, 23 August 2012
Not to get all literary theory on everyone, but have you ever stayed in a relatively cheap chain hotel and found yourself vaguely unsettled, unable to escape the notion that this is not a space actually designed for people? Walking the identical, silent, endlessly right angling corridors is an experience akin to the more unpleasant types of dream, the ones where you’re convinced you’ll never wake up. The toilets come shrink wrapped in plastic as if no one’s ever used them before, and the meticulous cleaning of each uniform room between occupancies ensures that no trace of previous guests remains.
Finally, the colour scheme is formulated to in no way stimulate any kind of emotional reaction. These are not spaces to live in, they are spaces that carry out the task of keeping a human being alive without any pleasantries. They are an un-house if you will.
But there is a touchstone amongst un-houses, the “Über-un-house”, a fallout shelter designed by an architect named Jay Swayze and located in Las Vegas (it couldn’t be allowed to exist anywhere else). It is, simultaneously, a concrete realization and unintended pastiche of all the paranoia, fear and denial that drove the American cold war psyche. It also looks a bit like how your granny would decorate her house if you slipped some acid in her tea.
The most striking feature of the shelter is that it is actually a space within a space; a ranch house with an adjoining patio and “garden” of AstroTurf, the whole enclosed within a concrete shell painted with clouds and alpine scenes. Bizarrely, the garden includes a guesthouse (who’s going to be dropping in?), and is also furnished with a barbeque disguised inside a fake boulder and a small swimming pool. Fibreglass trees merge into the ceiling, and there’s even a fully kitted out Christmas tree in case the end of the world happens to fall during the festive season (those sneaky godless commies!) It’s sort of like the bastard love child of Walt Disney and the American plastics industry.
Once you get inside though, the kitsch goes off the Richter scale. The dining room is covered floor to ceiling in tasseled fabric, and comes with a full set of crockery including a gravy boat. The bathroom looks like the set of a 70’s porn film, sporting a pink bidet and sunken bathtub surrounded by mirrors and Greek columns. And there are chandeliers EVERYWHERE. It’s like a particularly camp, hallucinogenic hell. It manages to be at the same time utterly banal and somehow massively offensive – there’s something that rankles about the image of the occupants indulging in such (admittedly tacky) luxury whilst the world burns above them.
See this video for a tour of the house.