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Plastic Tent House

Stanfordville, USA
1 of 9Randy Harris

The Plastic Tent House, made from translucent plastic, with cantilevered staircase and three suspended floors, was first built in 1974. After it was destroyed by fire, architect John Johansen entirely rebuilt the house by himself. He lived in this unique “exercise house” until October 2009, when he and his wife, Ati Gropius Johansen, relocated.

After Johansen House #2 burned down, it was rebuilt in as the Plastic Tent House in 1975. Shelter and security are perhaps the strongest motivations for building. In this case, the house as a plastic, translucent “tent” speaks of shelter as seemingly improvised and temporary. Within the tent, one feels to be inside, yet relative to the most inner “rockhound” cave, one is still outside. A sequential experience of enclosure is felt.

The “cave,” some 10 feet square with hearth, is certainly a reference to the primordial meaning of returning to the womb at night and being reborn with the new day. The “nest,” slung with cables from the roof, is semi-rigid and actually creaks in a high wind, giving an element of danger and anxiety, often playfully introduced into the architects buildings. The landscaped “tub,” locked into bedrock just off the living area, is intended not for body maintenance only, but for amorous, contemplative, or ritualistic bathing.

The building materials set up a tension which is almost palpable; low-tech ponderous stonework at the base represents ties with the past, as contrasted with the lightweight high-tech stainless steel and plastic. With constant light shining through the translucent plastic siding and with sunlight entering through clear glass areas, the house may be thought of as a “light modulator.” Shadows of tossing leaves and flying birds are cast against the plastic walls in full sunlight and even in moonlight. Approached at night the effect is reversed, with the house appearing as a lampshade glowing from light within.

Flexible air ductwork, familiar in urban construction, is another ad hoc feature. The ducts assume serpentine forms as they wait to heat rooms in a future whose location is yet to be determined.

This house, some 30 feet by 30 feet in plan, is the imprint of a family’s activities.