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La Petite Maison – An Architectural Seduction

The architectural project, The Dairy House, which lies at the core of this film, began with a text. Jean-François de Bastide’s 18th century La Petite Maison, An Architectural Seduction is simultaneously erotic novella and architectural treatise. It was designed to engage and educate the client through a provocative journey where the architecture is itself the generator of the narrative. At the centre of the story is ‘La Petite Maison’, a small building designed to sit discreetly within the grounds of a larger estate. This typology became notorious in the 18th century by providing the settings for clandestine meetings with lovers. In this story, the Marquis de Trémicour invites Mélite, a potential mistress, to visit his Petite Maison, and wagers that she will be overcome by desire created by the architecture itself. She accepts his wager and invitation, determined to see the exquisite craftsmanship contained within. The story unfolds as a tour of the building… The narrative describes the pair moving through the space with descriptions of the architectural devices. Their conversation, although focused on design, becomes the parallel story of their ‘courtship’. The spaces are more elaborate the more intimate they become, inverting the normal hierarchy between public and private. Eventually the architecture overwhelms Mélite, and she loses the wager.

These central ideas are abstracted within the Dairy House, which also sits as a private retreat on a much larger estate. The same notion of the inversion of a public and private hierarchy is played out; the most private spaces being the most luxurious. Games are played where the form itself repels the unwelcome. The visitor is met at the entrance by a pair of telescopes set into a wall of two-way mirror at eye level, the first instance of a controlling ‘erotic gaze’, where the architecture itself becomes both observer and seducer. The circulation routes; the incorporation of nature into the building, the act of camouflage create unexpected encounters. The use of water, glass and two-way mirror encourage oblique glimpses and shadows. Without experiencing the building itself, these architectural intentions can only be described in film. Here the narrative ideas, the sense of temporality, the appeal to the senses, and the merging of a human presence to the space itself, can be explored. Only through film can the potential action inherent in architecture be shown. Only through film and music is the sense of the past and future implied while fixing both completely in the present moment.

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