Degrees of Freedom in a minimal Space, An architectural Essay on Mike Webb’s Suitaloon, 2000.
Mike Webb’s Suitaloon may occupy any place between two extremes: the astronaut’s space suit and a refuge outfit for rebels or nomads. Or, it may well be just an imaginary suit equipped with a hedonistic device, which can be plugged-in and transformed in a cockpit-like environment. The kinetic feature in this case, is a superposition of literal nomadic movements in space and the potential metamorphosis of the object in an illusory space. Taking into account the ambivalent meaning of the name, insinuating different functioning types: Suit – talo(o)n, or S(uit)aloon, it is possible that what was called Suitaloon shifts between design object and art subject .
… the car was also becoming a symbol of life on wheels, so that the next inevitable step in this line of thought was the attraction of a nomadic lifestyle which found a resonance with the holiday dreams of Ron Herron’s ‘Free Time Node’ (1966). For Mike Webb, this concept of mobility took the form of the ‘Cushicle’. This project was to become an essential trigger for the project most closely linked to the body – the ‘Suitaloon’. It also gives an idea of the potential motion of an individual experiencing a nomadic adventure. The ‘Cushicle’ is thus an example of what Reyner Banham called the ‘Gizmo’ – a device implying an increased freedom of motion. The Gizmo would allow the American to travel temporarily, settle, and then leave again.
The search for higher degrees of flexibility, reflected in Mike Webb’s ‘Long-time Devotion to the Notion of Motion’, passes through an unprecedented perspective projection, where the subject and object system is related to the visual representation of the time flow. Therefore, the reading of different positions of the floor plates in space depends on the perception of a potential subject in motion. This representation of movement is developed at length in the shifting viewpoint implied by the drawings of the Temple Island showing a day at the Henley Regatta .
Changing the scale of investigation from the territorial mobility to the domestic flexibility and finally to the imperceptible transfer of energy, the main Archigram interest is no longer in the vehicle as such, but in the perception of its implicit motion. Achieving the spatio-temporal dimension in architecture is not only a matter of visual representation of an enclosure through drawings, but also of providing models of body and mind processes. Webb’s Cushicle, his deployed Suitaloon, and Greene’s Living Pod, were the product of what Peter Cook described in ‘Archigram Entr’acte – 3’ (1998) a ‘creative exile’ in the United States. The presence of those radiant pneumatic enclosures conceived somehow in vitro are today unique ‘Ghosts’ of the ‘impossible attempt to rationalise the irrational’ (Letter to David Greene from Warren Chalk). Yet, they opened up a new insight into the perception of reality. They introduced a temporal dimension that contemporary architectural thinking can no longer ignore.