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Koolhaas HouseLife

A filmed documentary about Koolhaas' famous maison a Bordeaux through the eyes of its magnificent cleaner Guadalupe Acede, directed by Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine

You may not know who Guadalupe Acede is, but as admitted by the architect Rem Koolhaas, she is actually the ringleader of the ideology of cleaning that collides with his ideology of architecture. Said collision occurs in the film Koolhaas HouseLife which got its first UK premiere last night at the Barbican as part of their partnership with The Architecture Foundation. Filmmakers Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine decided to film maison a Bordeaux, the 1998 landmark house that Koolhaas built for a man who was left confined to a wheelchair after a near-fatal car accident. Rather than opting for a straight forward documentary to celebrate the splendour of this three layered mechanical house with moving walls and sliding floors, instead, they chose to use Guadalupe Acede, the cleaner of the house to reveal a rather different side to this architectural feat.

Each tedium of this house’s cleaning routine is depicted. You wonder as she painfully mops and hoovers each individual step of the narrow steel staircase whether Koolhaas carefully considered the practicality of maintaining such a property and in a screened interview with Koolhas after the film, he could only concede that architecture is based mostly on hypothesis. Afterall, he could not possibly have predicted the leaks where the glass windows have shifted from its foundations, the monster operation of cleaning the excesses of glass windows or even just the tedious task of drawing back the lengthly curtains, which sees Guadalupe being engulfed by swathes of fabric. You cannot fault her blind devotion to the house when she insists on having the books on a shelf perfectly positioned and needlessly hoovers around jam jars in a kitchen unit.

However, whether Guadalupe truly is in love with Remhaas’ maison is entirely another matter. Guadalupe’s honest statements easily bemused the audience: “It’s (the house) too grey”, “I just don’t know how the house holds”, “It’s going to fall down”, “If I had money, I would not build a house like this”.  It’s all too easy to belittle her opinions, brushing her off as the cleaner who doesn’t understand Koolhaas’ vision. Still, the film manages to probe and question the concrete practicalities of the house whilst simultaneously marvelling at its grandiose mechanics.

A short film Gan Eden directedy by Niklas Goldbach was also shown. Set in the remains of MVRDV’s Dutch Pavillion in Hanover, Germany, the tragedy of this delapidated gigantic structure is the main focus of the film, resulting in an opposing perspective to what was shown in Koolhaas HouseLife.

The "Architecture on Film" series continues at the Barbican.