A Building and Its Double

"A Building and Its Double," appears in the edited volume Solid States: Concrete in Transition by Michael Bell and Craig Buckley.The second book in the series from Columbia University is focused on concrete. By far the most pervasive and affordable building material in the world, concrete has undergone ever-more widespread dissemination, standardization, and technological innovation in the last twenty-five years. Experts consider it the quintessential "engineered" material--it can be designed to satisfy almost any reasonable set of performance specifications--with recent scientific breakthroughs yielding composites stronger than steel, lighter than water, and as beautiful as natural stone. In Solid States: Concrete in Transition, an interdisciplinary group of architects, historians, theorists, engineers, fabricators, and materials scientists collectively explore the past, present, and future possibilities of this highly calibrated, fluid material.


Solid States: Concrete in Transition

A cast of an object traps it in time, eventually displaying two histories—its own past and the past of the object it replicates.—Richard Shone


For her controversial site-specific sculpture House (1993), artist Rachel Whiteread cast the interior of a three-story dwelling located in the East End of London. All of the other houses on the block—ubiquitous Victorian brick terrace houses—had been razed, leaving behind one fourteen-foot-wide specimen, former address: 193 Grove Road in Bow. Workers excavated under the lower level of the house to underpin a foundation for the new concrete structure that the artist had proposed. Inside, Whiteread and her crew treated all the walls with a debonding agent, and proceeded to meticulously trowel concrete onto all of the outward-facing surfaces. From the windowpanes to the interior of the hearths and around the boxes that held the light switches, they worked this fine layer of concrete into all of the crevices and openings. Following this intricate process of lining the interior, the work crew veiled the ceilings, walls, and floors with a tight grid of rebar to reinforce the new structure so that each room formed a self-supporting structural shell. Onto this reinforcement, gunnite, a much coarser type of concrete, was pneumatically sprayed in a series of layers, entombing the interior in a soupy atmosphere of grey. [1]  Once cured, the exterior cladding of brick, wooden lathe, plaster, paint, and wallpaper was peeled off to reveal the interior space of the house, now cast in positive relief by the concrete. Through this casting method, Whiteread erected a second version of 193 Grove Road, a building within a building that turned its inside out. The building’s party walls along with its front and rear facades had become its own formwork. House recast the private sphere of the domestic interior as a public work of art.



[1] For a detailed description of the construction process, see Neil Thomas, “The Making of House: Technical Notes,” in House, 128-30.