The Fred Astaire Solution

The Fred Astaire Solution

One of Fred Astaire’s most famous dance numbers involved him feeling so ecstatically in love that he danced up the wall and across the ceiling.  The problem with the idea was that, in 1951, when the movie Royal Wedding was made, there was no practical way to take Fred outside of Earth’s gravity field to capture the effect on film.

Instead, MGM built a room that could be rotated upside down, like a log rolling in the river.  The camera’s tripod was locked to the floor of the room, so the viewer always saw the floor as down and the ceiling as up.  Fred stood inside the room and danced.  Then they started rotating the room, and as the floor moved up and the wall moved down, Fred transferred from one plane to the other.  Then onwards to the ceiling, and down the next wall.

In doing so, Fred makes use of four out the six surfaces of the room as, at least temporarily, inhabitable floor space.

Architect and designer Greg Lynn proposes this approach as a long term solution for living.

His RV (Room Vehicle) Prototype is a 1/5 scale representation of a personal living pod.  The prototype was first shown at Bienniale  Interieur 2012 in Kortrijk, Belgium, and has since been seen at the National Academy Museum in NYC, on the Facebook campus, at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, CA, and at the UCLA IDEAS campus.

The full-sized cocoon would contain 1500 square feet of floor space, wrapped around the inside of the carbon fiber shell, so that it occupies a ground footprint of only 600 square feet.  The pod sits in a motorized cradle that can rotate the entire pod into any of three orientations.  0º is for living room activities, 180º for sleeping, 90º for bath and kitchen.

Unlike Fred’s room, when the RV is in Living position, the bed would not be visibly hanging overhead.  The furniture would flip around to expose ceiling panels with lighting fixtures.  (BTW: Fred’s hotel room, if you include the walls and ceiling, was about 10 times larger than Greg Lynn’s proposed cocoon.)

One can’t help fantasizing that life in such a pod would have bizarre qualities.  You run a nice, hot bath, but just before you step into it, you remember that you left your towel in the bedroom, which is currently disappeared behind a wall.  You can’t rotate back to the bedroom without dumping the bathwater on the bed.  It gives new meaning to the phrased “a life well-planned.”

Ultra compact living spaces are being explored by designers with increasingly frequency.  FRP lends itself to these designs, both because of its lightweight strength and its easy fabrication.   This small-scale architecture offers lessons for larger-scale FRP applications, too.

The technology is noteworthy, but so is the collective, cumulative message of all these designers:  They’re telling us that the planet is increasingly overcrowded, and we’re not paying sufficient attention to it.

From Greg Lynn Form:

“Originally designed for the BIENNALE INTERIEUR 2012 as a response to a small domestic space, this rolling living unit packs 1500 square feet of living surface across 270 degrees of a rotating shell that occupies a maximum of 600 square feet in ground area. The furniture is gimbaled and designed so as to disappear into the surface revealing glowing translucent lanterns. The 1/5th scale prototype weighs less than 150 lbs. and is built like a F1 car in foam cored carbon fiber epoxy laminate.”