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A 'spec'-ulative Showroom!

A microcosm of copy-paste logics, the domestic bathroom remains a recognizable block against even the most provocative of typologies. It is a given. If 1950s America told us what the domestic bathroom is and how to shop for it, Ching, Ramsey, and Neufert showed us how to draw it. The bathroom is the simplest of design challenges – for, it is no challenge at all.

The contemporary bathroom has been reduced to a mere recipe for specification. As both ambitions and expectations for deviation run low, the task of bathroom ‘design’ is often delegated to the most inexperienced members of the contemporary architectural firm to select  the most tasteful fixtures, finishes, and moisture resistant materials, often using catalogs and lists as a basis. Yet, the bathroom is not innate. It is not neutral and as Slavoj Žižek tells us, it is anything but simple. The bathroom’s standardization is rather, a stronghold of civilization, a purveyor of culture, and a defense for lifestyle – it is pure ideology. 

If the normal is in, then the architectural specification, or ‘spec,’ accomplishes certain orders of hipness in its banality. Is it time for architects to speculate through the logic of the specification? In the imaginative spirit of instruction masters like Bernard Cache and Sol LeWitt, how can the discipline exploit the seeming simplicity of the architectural recipe toward meaningful variation?

9 ‘spec-ulative’ bathrooms! synthesizes a new history for the bathroom. The exhibition looks to the archive of domestic water use, to both learn about bathroom design and to project possible futures while challenging assumed usage.  Taking into account the logic of the specification in conjunction with cultural signifiers linked to this room, the exhibition creates a bathroom showroom that ‘spec-ulates’! on contemporary bathroom fixtures and plumbing fittings to expose the politics tucked within the cavity of the 2 x 4 stud wall.

9 ‘spec-ulative’ bathrooms! is part of an ongoing project by Office for Example that investigates Domestic Hydrology and its connection to lifestyle.

9 ‘Spec’-ulative Bathrooms! is part of the 2018-19 Fellows Exhibition: Things Around Us, at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College.

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