The following project, Outsourced Domesticity, explores performance as a social phenomenon inseparable from its material reality. Objects, places, devices, institutions, infrastructures and technologies are all designed with the capacity to render certain situations more or less likely. The unavoidable agency of things makes design a political act.

A reconstruction of daily life in the second cheapest rental apartment in Manhattan. All images courtesy of Patrick Craine.

A reconstruction of daily life in the second cheapest rental apartment in Manhattan. All images courtesy of Patrick Craine.

This study documents the second least expensive rental apartment in Manhattan to reveal an unpredictable and vast network of spaces, technologies, objects, people, animals, plants, policies, beliefs and histories. The physical apartment is just one tiny part of a much larger specialized, networked urbanism with its own highly developed intelligence. When we see how this place and its occupant—an eighty-nine year old man who has resided in this apartment since 1971, and pays $71.23 per month in rent—perform daily life, a networked reality comes to light. In this case, the programs and rituals of domesticity that typically occur within the home take place outside of its physical boundaries. It is this performance—the ability to compose constituent and seemingly unrelated parts—that reveals an intelligence that can be used as material for design.

The Fifty Little Guys, a catalog of devices for living in Soho.

The Fifty Little Guys, a catalog of devices for living in Soho.

By observing the performative devices of daily life, Outsourced Domesticity reassembles these findings into architectural artifacts that make new interactions between people, objects, nature and the city possible. The Fifty Little Guys is a catalog of designs equipped to instigate these performances. Their intentions are realized through qualities of design: dimension, material, interiority, color, dependence on outside resources, location, operation and mobility. Design is crucial in embedding these devices with a specific agency. Whether these devices create alternative markets for trade and valuation or provide a platform to encounter difference, they give access and visibility to otherwise unknown methods of engaging in the city—they provide an alternative way to exist in one of the most expensive and consumer driven neighborhoods in the world.

Evolution of The Fifty Little Guys as a network, and within the daily lives of the people who engage with them.

Evolution of The Fifty Little Guys as a network, and within the daily lives of the people who engage with them.

Each device also has another layer of performance embedded within it. The intention here is not to be deterministic—and yet, instead of remaining neutral and accommodating every possibility, the idea is to provoke adaptation, or misuse, through specificity. The equipment and performative capacities of each device allow them to be easily reappropriated for a diverse set of agendas. The devices offer the capacity for the participatory and performative evolution of the design.

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Patrick Craine is the director of Practice, an architectural office. He currently teaches advanced studios with Andrés Jaque at the Columbia University GSAPP. His work has been recognized with numerous awards and publications, the most recent being the winning project for the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program in partnership with Andrés Jaque/Office for Political Innovation. www.practicearchitecturaloffice.com

This project was completed in 2013 in “Sweet Home Urbanism,” a design studio at the GSAPP taught by Andrés Jaque.