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A Home Design Conducive to Longevity


Tucked back in the woods of East Hampton, Long Island, there's a house that doesn't look like any of the others nearby. It's modeled on residences in Japan called reversible destiny lofts, and these places have bold colors, concave floors, doors too short to walk through, columns to hold on to when you lose your balance.

Two New York City artists - Madeline Gins and Arakawa -believe that living in such challenging space may lead to immortality.

NPR's Alison Bryce toured the house and brings us this report.

ALISON BRYCE: The first thing you notice is that there's no front of the house.

Mr. JOHN CANE(ph): The other thing to notice is that there's three entrances to the house. There's no main entrance to the house.

BRYCE: John D. Cane(ph) is a student and disciple of the artist Madeline Gins and Arakawa who likes to go by just one name.

Mr. CANE: There's sections of the house that have this kind of strange, plastic, frosted glass that's - it's semi-transparent, so it lets light in, but it doesn't let the vision around you in.

BRYCE: And from the outside, some windows are rectangular and hug the ground, others are square and hug the roof, but you can't see inside the house at all. Walking inside the house, you take one step up into a small, windowless room and then two steps down into it and then four steps up into a central room.

Mr. CANE: So that then you're twice the height that you went down into the house and then there's this tiny little opening into this gigantic, central room.

BRYCE: The kitchen and dining room are deeply sunken in the center. Other rooms extend off an oval living area. There are no doors; there are no closets. The ceiling slats. At one end of the oval, you feel large; in the other end, you feel small. And then there's the undulating floor.

Mr. CANE: So you'll get this feeling as you're walking through that this landscape that moves in continues through the house and moves out the other side of the house.

BRYCE: They designed this house and say that flat floors are unnatural and unpleasant. Giving the tour, Cane points out how this house plays with perception.

Mr. CANE: If you orient yourself visually to one feature, you think you have this relation to it. And then you realize that, oh, it doesn't have that relation to the wall. Therefore, you actually don't have that relation to where you thought you were. So suddenly, you're not actually where you were a second ago. And that's a fundamentally jarring thing to realize, and I haven't even moved yet. We're not even in the space.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRYCE: Gins and Arakawa want this house to be jarring. Gins says that the body doesn't end at the skin, but actually includes the space around it.

Ms. MADELINE GINS (Co-founder, Architectural Body Research Foundation): And we think the basic unit of consideration should be the body proper plus the architectural surround.

BRYCE: So by designing an awkward and uncomfortable living area, Gins and Arakawa think you can challenge yourself physically and mentally.

Ms. GINS: Because we want to make you tentative. If we make you tentative, then you'll find all that you are and that you can do.

BRYCE: They believe that this architecture boosts immunity to disease and increases longevity. They believe this architecture can change mortality. One of Gins and Arakawa's mission statement: architecture against death. Gins wonders if living with uncertainty could eliminate mortality.

Ms. GINS: We might be able to learn how to go on indefinitely. What if mortality wasn't written in stone?

BRYCE: Earl Miller doesn't think that living in a challenging house like this would do much to extend one's life. Miller is a professor of neuroscience at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. He says these surroundings will become familiar very quickly and no longer provide a challenge. Because the oddities of the house are constant, Miller says the brain would need new stimulation to remain active and alert.

In 1997, Gins and Arakawa published "We Have Decided Not To Die." The book accompanied the reversible destiny lofts display in the Guggenheim Museum Soho in 1998. They've been working on their reversible destiny philosophy for decades. Gins says the reversible destiny lofts are a hit in Japan.

Ms. GINS: Each residence is a gym, a research laboratory, and a temple or a beyond temple in one.

BRYCE: Now, Gins and Arakawa are bringing their alternative architectural lifestyle to this country. The house in East Hampton will be up for sale in a few weeks, just in time to invite family and friends over for a Thanksgiving holiday party.

Alison Bryce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Bryce