Upstate New York's amazing 'ReActor' house is like a home on a seesaw

Bored with your current living arrangement? Then maybe you should consider moving to the ReActor house: an impressively zany creation by architect-artists Ward Shelley and Alex Schweder, currently installed at the OMI International Arts Center, in Ghent, New York.

Basically a giant seesaw with 360-degree movement, the house tilts and rotates in response to both prevailing wind conditions and the varying weight distribution of its occupants.

“ReActor is part of a series of architectural pieces Alex and I have made that put two inhabitants in a space that reflects and even determines their relationship,” Shelley told Digital Trends.

“We [previously] made a piece called Stability that had a feature in common with ReActor: the balancing and tipping. The two inhabitants have to work together to keep the piece balanced; they have to move together to corresponding positions.”

The concrete column at the center of ReActor is 15 feet tall, while the house measures 44 by 8 feet. It contains a foldaway kitchen and bathroom, shower, chemical toilet, pair of beds, propane stove, storage, and more — alongside plenty of furniture. In other words, it’s a real home — or real enough that our two intrepid architect-artists were willing to spend five days living there between July 27 and 31 this year.

“Being in ReActor is peaceful and pleasant; a little magical and Utopian,” Shelley continued. “It is set in a beautiful landscape, and that becomes 50 percent of your awareness. The sides are all transparent, so it is just like being outside, but you aren’t: You are in a comfortable chair with a drink and a book, just drifting slowly, like drifting down a wide lazy river. Sometimes the structure groans like on old wooden sailing ship, [but] mostly it’s quiet.”

The one downside of the home’s transparent design, he said, came on particularly sunny days. “On the hottest days we could have wished for some sun shades,” he admitted. “We were not surprised by that and I am glad we tested it without shades or awnings — [but] I think I would have shades if I was going to spend summers in ReActor.”

However, that was not enough to stop them from agreeing to return to the house for two more stretches later this year — on September 24-25 and October 6-10.

“We will be coming back in about four weeks to try Indian summer, and then later again for a fall visit,” he noted. “We want to experience the different seasons. We will be installed here for two years, so we’ll know a lot more before it’s over.”

And does he feel like the pair have stumbled on a new way of living that we’ll all be rushing to try out? It’s not quite that straightforward. “We came into this thinking ReActor is an artwork, not a house,” Shelley said. “At the core of ReActor is an absurd idea: it is a ‘house’ built for two people, but they can’t be together because it will go out of balance.”

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a useful purpose. A bit like high fashion — where the concepts introduced on runways are meant to serve as extreme examples of the clothing that eventually filters out to regular buyers — concepts like this explore interesting concepts that can then be built upon.

“It asks questions, floats suggestions, imagines the far-fetched,” Shelley noted. “It all can be sorted out later. With ReActor, I don’t think we were looking at the future of marketable architecture per se; we were looking at aspects of culture and the human condition — and working with those ideas through created spaces.”

And even though you might not want to live in the ReActor home permanently (although it would be great for families with moody teenagers who don’t want to be anywhere near their parents), he’s not convinced it wouldn’t have a place as a fun novelty home for short vacations.

“Probably in terms of everyday [life], you wouldn’t find it practical to live in a tipping, twirling house,” Shelley concluded. “But you might choose to stay in one for a holiday or a retreat, because it is a very rich experience. As I said, this is not what we were expecting or intending, but this is what we came out with. So we are thinking about that. We definitely want to do more with this.”

So one for Airbnb, then? Heck, we’ll take the plunge. Literally.

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