The ubiquity of celebrity endorsements is such that it becomes perfectly natural to see Psy cracking pistachios Gangnam Style or Eva Longoria hawking a new line of experimentally flavored Lays chips (chicken ‘n’ waffles, if you’re wondering). The connections are meaningless, if entertaining, and generally amount to good-looking faces smiling their way through 30-second television spots, gesticulating in slow-motion, and delivering taglines in breathy tenor.
It works for bottled water and tennis shoes, but does it work for experimental housing prototypes? In the case of Spanish architecture firm Elii, it does. The initials in the JF-Kit House stand for Jane Fonda, though it’s possible that the legendary screen actress, fashion icon, political activist, and fitness instructor is unaware of the fact. (For their part, the architects, who describe Fonda as an inspiration behind the project, think of it as more of a tribute.) Still, look past the branding and you’ll find substance: The JF-Kit House is a high-concept proposal to redesign the home as a platform for political activity.
The prototype is a self-sufficient, off-the-grid home that’s powered by its inhabitants. The architects tell Co. Design that in their scenario, homeowners would "produce part of their domestic energy requirements with their own muscles." The house—constructed in part as a pavilion at CIVA architecture center in Brussels last summer—is fitted with several calisthenic mechanisms that double as furniture. In this environment, lifting weights in the "power living room," and spinning in the "spinning kitchen" become routine activities, like cooking, cleaning, or even watching TV.
Interestingly, the home’s upkeep is contingent on the resident’s ability to keep to their exercise regimen; at the same time, the design of the house directly conditions the body of the owner. The architects explain: "The JF-Kit House reveals the body as a critical passage point and a central battlefield in the articulation of sustainable futures." Translation: The house becomes an extension of the body and thereby engenders its physical attributes and political agency.
Which brings us back to Jane Fonda. The architects say the house is designed to engender a "Jane Fonda model of citizenship," one that combines fitness and social activism to produce a new kind of subject. That’s essential, they say, for fostering a truly sustainable movement—one that can shed our current consumption habits and political malaise. Sure, the branding is a cheap hook. And yes, restructuring the foundation of society lies well beyond the sole purview of the architectural discipline. But it’s still refreshing to see architects provoking this kind of discussion through a built form.