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It’s for the car of the future, today. French automaker Renault commissioned Marchi Architectes to design a lifestyle container for the Symbioz, a self-driving, electric automobile for the year 2030, but unveiled at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show. In other words, a concept house for the concept car. Sharing the same power source, aesthetics, and digital systems, the combination would create a seamless ecosystem for the owners, with the car functioning as an extra room inside the home and as a home away from home on the road.
Married partners and architects Adélaïde and Nicola Marchi answered the brief with H33, a 1,400-square-foot, two-level modular house. Upon arrival, the car drives itself into one end of the ground floor, its lightly tilted parallelepiped-shape footprint enclosed almost entirely by glass walls, several of which slide open. Inside, structural columns are relegated to the perimeter for an open plan. “Renault requested that the car enter and connect with the home in a way that isn’t like a garage,” Adélaïde Marchi recalls.
Indeed. When inside, the car takes pride of place on a circular platform a few feet away from the dining area and sofa—the latter upholstered, naturally, in the same textured wool-polyester blend as the generously proportioned rotating car seats. With its doors open and glass roof raised, the vehicle becomes a second seating area for up to four people. When it’s time to drive it out, the platform pivots like a giant automated lazy Susan, with the car poised to roll straight back out the glass panels without ever needing to reverse.
If that isn’t ingenious enough, the Marchis took that platform a step further by turning it into a car-size dumbwaiter capable of raising the automobile to the upstairs level via a four-cable system based on theater rigs used to hoist stage sets. Elevated to the second floor, which contains a bedroom and a bathroom, the car perches outdoors on the flat roof deck to serve as a lounge or even a home office. “Our idea was to allow the car to circulate within the house,” Adélaïde Marchi continues. “The car is like a mini house within the house,” Nicola Marchi adds. “At Frankfurt, nobody had done anything like this before. It had only been about cars, yet Renault was introducing a house.” Meanwhile, while that platform is raised, a round of brilliant blue carpet emerges from underneath, allowing the area to become a hang-out spot.
The Marchis’ commission was not only for the house to be modular and demountable but also capable of fitting into shipping containers, so that it can travel around the world and be easily assembled and reassembled. (The structure has since gone to two locations in rural France.) For research, the architects studied videos of the assembly of Jean Prouvé’s modular 1948 Maxéville Design Office as well as rooftop garages around the world. A scene in the movie Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise rolls out of a car straight into his living room, inspired their thinking about rapprochement between the house’s garage and living space.
Renault specified the palette of materials used in the Symbioz to ensure a shared aesthetic, or complete symbiosis, between car and house. The vehicle’s copper-finished steel body is mimicked in the aluminum panels covering the residence’s cylindrical volume housing the elevator, yielding a futuristic grain silo of sorts. Further, the LEDs on its exterior are programmed to indicate whether the car is on the road, in the house, or on the dumbwaiter heading upstairs. Then, the car’s interior larch accents are expressed in the house’s furnishings, but mostly along the ceiling plane. Myriad slats in the same wood add warmth and dimension, particularly necessary since the ceiling could only be 73⁄4 feet high in order to meet size requirements for shipping.
Whether the house is a veritable piece of futuristic carchitecture or merely a captivating exercise in style, it’s an intriguing thought experiment for the 21st century on the evolving ways in which architecture and automobile design intersect and coexist—themes explored as far back as Le Corbusier and likely to keep evolving. So what happens when the roads are muddy and you don’t feel like letting the car into the house? Perhaps H33 2.0 will include a built-in car wash at its threshold.
Project Team: Isotta Lercari; Xiang Li; Marta Guedan; Kyra Ahier: Marchi Architectes. Philips Lighting: Lighting Consultant. EVP Ingénierie: Civil Engineer. Agence Franck Boutté Consultants: Sustainability Consultant. AMG-Féchoz: Car-Elevator Engineer.